“Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make men happy (Siegbert Tarrasch).”

Words by Teddy Parkin.

E4. The most common opening in the entire game of chess. C5. “The Sicilian”. The most statistically effective response to E4. Now we have an interesting game on our hands. Mind vs. Mind. A mental war. Two people engaged in a menacing intellectual arena, both creatively constructing their own in-genius strategies to checkmate the opponents King. This is the beautiful game of Chess. It is the most played game in the world. FIDE, the world chess federation, approximated that 605 million people play chess. To contextualise this figure, that is almost three times as many people that play (football). There is a reason for this popularity. It is a special game that brings people together. 

“The game of chess is not merely an idle amusement. Several very valuable qualities of the mind, useful in the course of human life, are to be acquired or strengthened by it… Life is a kind of Chess, in which we have often points to gain, and competitors or adversaries to contend with.” – Benjamin Franklin

Chess players and the huge community of chess proponents often espouse a metaphorical connection that links the game to life more generally. The dynamics of the game reflect aspects of life and can teach us how to be better people and make better decisions. Garry Kasparov, six-time world champion and the youngest to ever achieve such a feat aphorises “Chess is life in miniature. Chess is a struggle, chess battles.” Someone who having mastered the game speaks of life lessons that have transcended the 64 squares. Chess forces you to think ahead, think creatively, be more pragmatic, consider your opponent’s perspective and shapes within the sphere of your attention many more different thought patterns. Frames of mind that stand to seriously increase your brainpower and ability to live a more considered life. This is more than just a game. 

All that matters on the chessboard is good moves. – Bobby Fischer 

One of the greatest games to ever be played was during the match between Fischer Spassky world championship final in 1972. A true coming together of giants. Spassky world champion at the time one of the greatest soviet players to ever touch a pawn sat across from  his opponent Bobby Fischer, the child prodigy who went onto to become the best player in American history, beating multiple soviet grandmasters and thwarting their Soviet chess superiority in this period.  In Game 6 Fischer employed brilliant strategy and flair to dispatch Spassky. A game renowned in history and ever since has been studied emphatically by students of chess.

It is a highly competitive sport. At professional level, the greatest chess minds go to head to head. They combine short term strategy with a lifetimes worth of preparation, studying the game inside and out. The game I mentioned above is a great example for you to see how beautiful the game can be when played at the highest level.  It is also an example of how the chess often transcends itself. Fischer vs. Spassky was played during the height of the cold war. The game became a microsphere of geopolitical conflict. USA vs. USSR. Kissinger, the US defence secretary of the US at the time was sure to call Fischer and wish him luck. Some added pressure always helps. 

“Chess doesn’t drive people mad, it keeps mad people sane.” – Bill Hartston

A critical aspect that is often unspoken with chess are the positive benefits on the mental health of people who play the game. With the conversation around mental health becoming more expansive and normalised, I would like to add chess to this dialogue as an incredibly useful tool. People who play chess understand the feeling of certainty that it brings, there is a sense of alleviation and relief almost when engaged in a game. When I feel down myself, playing chess is a great way for me to dedicate my mind and attention into a sphere where seemingly I have control and calm in contrast to the chaos of the world around me. Healthline lists some benefits in regard to certain mental struggles. “Chess can make therapy more effective, chess may offer protection against the development of dementia, chess can improve the symptoms of ADHD and electronic chess may stave off panic attacks.” I understand some of these may come across as far-fetched, yet I am not claiming that chess is the magic pill. There are clearly ways in which it can help us be calm and improve the health of our minds. The full extent of its capabilities here are yet to be determined. 

“Let’s Play” – Beth Harmon (from the Queens Gambit)

There is now a plethora of Chess media content out there. The award-winning Netflix mini-series the Queens has been a huge hit. An excellent show I must say, not only effectively conveying the excitement and beauty that surrounds chess but an excellent storyline to accompany it. If you haven’t seen the show, I truly recommend it for your next media binge session. Most people that I know who have watched it, who didn’t play chess before, now are self-proclaimed chess lovers. Furthermore, there is a growing cohort of Chess youtubers flooding the scene, one of great notoriety is Agadmator. His videos entail a break-down of famous chess games (check out Fischer vs. Spassky game 6 on his channel!) and other interesting ones with in-depth analysis. The quality and consistency of his videos have turned the man into somewhat of a chess icon and the culmination of a large chess community. His content provides a simple and easy way to familiarise yourself with the entire culture of chess as well as the nitty gritty of the game itself. 

These is much more to be discussed in relation to the game of chess. I intend to write many more articles about it. It is a truly fascinating subject and I believe there are many more things that I could explore in relation to it. However, for now, I hope I have effectively introduced you to its beauty and communicated the value it could bring to your life. 

Categories: Features

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