The Art of Power

I often like to think of chess as a metaphor for power. Only those who wield it well, know how finite their time is

Published: Nov 18, 2011

Chess is a brilliant game for one powerful reason — there are no outcomes that can be achieved through compromises. Instead, the endgames are overwhelmingly non-negotiable. Pause now for a moment and give the game a thought.

There are 64 squares on a chess board and 32 pieces on it with 16 pieces for each player. There are 400 different positions possible after one moves apiece. This multiplies exponentially to 72,084 positions after two moves. And after four moves, there are more than 288 billion possibilities. Chess theorists have calculated there are more openings, defences and gambits than the number of quarks in the universe. But theoretically, they say, the longest game has to end in 5,949 moves.

Which is why, I often like to think of chess as a metaphor for power. Only those who wield it well, know how finite their time is. President Obama, who ranks Number 1 on our list this year, summed it up a few years ago when he told David Axelrod, his chief strategist in the run-up to his presidential campaign: “I like dealing with complicated issues. I’m happy to make decisions. I’m looking forward to it.”

Sonia Gandhi, who ranks Number 11, didn’t seek power. Power sought her out. What else explains the rise of a girl born in northern Italy to the highest echelons of the world’s most raucous democracy? To investigate the phenomenon, we commissioned London-based Rani Singh, who documented her story with meticulous research and hundreds of hours of interviews with Gandhi’s closest aides to understand how one of the world’s most powerful woman got there and stayed there. Former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George got it right. “If you want to succeed in politics you must keep your conscience firmly under control.”

On page 42, we also have a special report on Afghanistan. It is a fascinating story of how India is fighting a geopolitical battle in a war-ravaged nation without firing a single bullet. To tell this compelling tale, Senior Editor Dinesh Narayanan crossed the border and, in the finest traditions of reporting, got home a powerful story.  

A note from you on what you think of our efforts would be deeply appreciated.

(This story appears in the 02 December, 2011 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Geetha

    Some absolute gems in this issue of Forbes India - On Sonia Gandhi - an Italian riddle, wrapped in a Indian mystery inside an enigma, on the 'Sherpa from Palo Alto' in Zen Garden, the heroes of 26/11 in 'A Night At The Taj'..... Thank you!

    on Nov 27, 2011
  • Vir Dewan

    Dear Charles Assisi, It is nice contemporary article in recent times. Spent a good time while reading this article. Thanks.

    on Nov 25, 2011
  • Geetha

    Welcome back, Mr. Assisi! It's great to read your article!

    on Nov 20, 2011
  • Rahul Doke

    nice artical

    on Nov 18, 2011
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