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Friday, April 27, 2012

The Internet is Changing Chess


Well, that’s a pretty broad statement, but a very true one, as most of you realize. Beyond the obvious changes, though, lie subtle ones that are so commonplace now, some chess players might not even know they are new. Let’s take a look at a few of the ways Internet and computers have changed chess, permanently.

1. Hate-sitting

Sometimes called ‘clock-sitting’, it is when one player, usually the losing one, just stops moving and allows their clock to run down instead of resigning. It’s annoying in bullet chess, it’s downright uncool in long games. Back when chess was only played OTB, hate-sitting was a rare occurrence, indeed. It’s much more difficult to sit there with a smirk on your face letting your clock run down while your opponent is two feet away, physically looking at you.

2. Fast time controls

Sure, the old masters played speed chess, but not one-minute games, and not with anywhere near the regularity they appear today. In fact, there are far more bullet games played on the ‘net each day than any other type of chess. That is definitely a sign of the times. It’s very hard to play 2/1 when your clock is an hourglass.

3. Cheating

Ah, yes, cheating; you knew it had to be mentioned. There have been OTB cheaters, but the number is so miniscule compared to online cheaters as not to be mentioned. We’ve all heard of Toiletgate and the incident at the World Open a few years back, but OTB cheaters are caught pretty readily, whereas online cheaters using a program are much harder to detect, especially if they are doing it correctly.

4. Regularity

Imagine, for a second, there were no Internet chess games available. You would have to wait until club night or, if there are no clubs in your area, you’d have to play limited opponents that would likely be crushed by you every game if they were only casual players. Today, we can hop online and within seconds get any kind of chess game we choose, and against any type of opponent. That is amazing, when you think about how the chess-world was pre-Bobby Fischer. Just amazing!

5. Lessons for FREE!

Alekhine couldn’t sign on to YouTube in 1924 and learn the newest lines of an opening he was interested in. Back then, it was learn it by books or innovation, or don’t learn it at all. I believe this is one of the many reasons that kids and new players are so much stronger today than they were back when. Every one of us has access to thousands and thousands of chess lessons and published games at the click of a mouse.

6. Discussion forums (such as chessforums.org)

Before the common household use of computers, you discussed chess news and lines with someone you physically knew (or maybe by telephone or mail), or you didn’t discuss them at all. Today, information moves so quickly that the average player knows much more about all facets of the game than they did in Alekhine’s day; that’s a fact.

7. Study habits

Before computers, players were meticulously going over opening lines, endgame techniques, and working things out with other players over an actual board. Today, we can fire up any of a gajillion databases, watch a sea of videos, hire strong masters to train us via Skype, and use powerful engines to immediately evaluate any position in the world. Times, they say, are a changin’.

8. Money

The Internet has opened up a great big highway for the money monster. Masters can now charge for lessons and give them from the comfort of their own homes. Businessmen can open up pay chess sites and collect both member and ad revenue. Grandmasters are paid to host online simuls, give lectures on games or theory, record video lessons for the masses, and even play each other. Try that in 1930. 

There are myriad other ways that the Internet/computer has changed chess, but I’ll leave you with those eight for now. Who knows what lies in the next five, ten, fifteen years? The huge changes we will see are going to be both exhilarating and terrifying.  

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