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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. 


  1. Masses of people like certain sports because those sports are likable. They all have different reasons for being likable, but one of the biggest reasons is complexity. The major league baseball rule book has around 117 pages. TRUST me, you do not know the rules to baseball. I'm sure the other sports you listed are in the same boat. Complexity of rules adds to complexity of strategy, if you don't know the rules, your strategy becomes very elementary and the game seems boring. I'm sure you would generalize baseball as "hit the ball and run around the bases" Thats because you do NOT understand the game. I (and many other people) would generalize chess as "a board game where you try to capture the other guy's king". Thats because I know very little about the game.

    I used to describe nascar as "guys racing around a track for 500 miles" UNTIL I watched it enough to start understanding more of the rules and in turn more of the strategy, and it slowly became more interesting. Most non-baseball people describe it as "too slow to watch", but when you know more about it, the game is not slow at all. There is shit happening constantly.. Did you know that when the manager walks out to switch a pitcher, if he waves to the bullpen with his left hand, he wants a left handed pitcher, and if her waves with right, he wants right handed? AND that if he accidentally waves with the wrong hand, he HAS to stick with the first gesture he made? (Oh btw, this matters a LOT in baseball because in the closing innings they try to match up closing pitchers with left or right handed batters because the pitchers statistically do better when they do). Anyway, the point is, the more you understand these HUGE sports, the more strategy becomes apparent that you weren't aware of before, which makes them more interesting to watch. The same goes for chess, most people don't find it interesting, but you know as well as I do, thats because they don't really understand WHY its interesting, which would be the complex strategy involved....

    Trust me friend, millions of people aren't watching football just because they are too dumb to find chess interesting. I'm sure most of them started watching because it happened to be on at a friends house here and there when they would go over, but slowly while watching with their pal, they started understanding more of the game, and got hooked on watching the strategy play out in front of them. If chess were on TV, this would happen with it, just like it happened with poker.

    Anyway, I only bothered typing this because I truly understand both sides and I thought this might help you understand them too.. It seems like you are "tolerant" of people watching sports, and "understand" people who like chess. I understand both.

  2. Yea, I totally get the strategy and intricate rules thing, and if I were to choose a sport it would 100% be baseball for just that reason. I played soccer for six years and can't name a single player other than Pele lol——odd.

    Anyhow, yea, I DO get it, I truly do. My point is more that chess is considered abnormal, ‘nerdy’, or downright weird in most people’s eyes, whereas violent and barbaric ‘sports’ are perfectly normal and all the rage. I find that odd but I don’t know why.

    If someone were to say, “I’d rather watch college ball than attend a chess tournament,” almost everyone in the world would understand that, know what I mean? Hell, I even understand it. But when I say the opposite, I sink down a few notches in almost everyone’s mind. It’s just a strange paradox I notice about society in general. I don’t usually make a habit of generalizations, as you know, but this one is pretty standard across the board.