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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Chess: The Other Sport

Do I want chess to become mainstream? Do I want it to pick up corporate sponsors so the elite grandmasters are forced to play in Tide jackets or Nike ball caps and do commercials about teeth whitening products? Not in a zillion years. But boy, oh boy, I would really like there to be more players and fans.

Football. Hey, it’s an iconic American activity like baseball or eating too much or faking like you think politically correct things all the time. I get it, I really do, but I’ve never been a real sports fan. While I can appreciate someone who can hit umpteen homeruns in a row, a man who makes the touchdown of the century, or a heavyweight boxer who has literally knocked out every opponent who has ever faced him, it’s just not what floats my boat. Not entirely.

To each his own and trust me, those aren’t just words coming from me. I truly believe in them. If you wish to spend your Sundays eating and drinking too much and watching cars go round and round for five hundred miles or seeing unreasonably large and aggressive men sweat on a field, by all means, that’s yo thang. I don’t say much about it, because I can appreciate that people appreciate things that other than the things I do. I hope that makes sense.

But so why, then, is it okay for everyone to knock chess so easily? When I tell folks I’d rather play or watch chess than turn on the NFL, I’m sure you can imagine the looks and comments I get. I’m assuming because sports are very mainstream and chess is not, I’m seen as somewhat of a freak for choosing one over the other, and that’s okay; I probably am a freak. But I’m a freak who likes chess and keeps his mouth shut when it comes to other people’s passions. I wish more would do the same or, at the very least, give chess a try. It makes me wonder how many potential masters spend their spare time eating Cheetos and yelling at the television because some athlete screwed up a play.

For me personally, watching sports is just too passive an activity. I suppose it would be different if the fans of sports were also athletes themselves. It’s one thing to watch the big game and then go play it on a field, but quite another to fall into a drunken sleep, fingers orange and salty, belly protruding, mouth wide open. ‘merika.

And that, friends, is where chess and sports really differ. I can spend a few hours watching a top-tier match between two famous grandmasters and then actually compete in the game myself. No, not at the GM level, but that isn’t to say I couldn’t if I had the time and resources. But very few NFL fans are going to be drafted this next season, straight from the couch. That’s all I’m saying.

In our society, it is far, far more acceptable to be entertained by three-hundred-pound men hurling themselves at each other over a ball that isn’t even round than to enjoy an afternoon playing a quiet game of chess with a friend. I’m no psychologist, so I’m not sure what that indicates, but my best guess is that it probably isn’t great.

Don’t get me wrong, here, I’m not saying society would improve if everyone played chess, I’m not saying people would be better if they enjoyed the gentelman’s game, and I’m not saying sports are bad in any way, shape, or form. What I am saying, though, is that if more people had open minds, they’d surely receive more out of life.

Sucks to be them. My mind has been doorless since I was born. Bring it on, I say. I have watched sports, I know most of the rules to all of the games, and I even enjoy them time to time. But to be burned at the stake for choosing rook sacrifices over double plays is just backward-ass thinking.

Now, go checkmate someone. Or don’t.