Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Why I Finally Decided To Blog About Chess


I have been playing chess since I was about seven years old or even younger. I could recall that I used to observe my father play chess.  I would ask about how the pieces move and soon after a few lessons, I was playing the game on my own.  Thereafter, I got hooked with the game and for hours I would be playing with anyone available who are even much older than I am.

When I was younger, there were only two popular past times. That is chess and the other one is basketball.  Computer games were unheard of that time. I would play chess the moment I wake and, at times, until the sun rises. That was how I was addicted to the game.

I have joined several chess tournaments. I remember joining the tournaments organized by the Metropolitan Chess Club. But, the one that cannot forget is the National Junior Chess Championship. I played well and my name landed in the sports section of a leading newspaper.  However, as I need to focus on my studies and for some other reasons, I have to leave the tournament without completing the rounds.

Though I need to concentrate on my studies, my love for the game has not taken a back seat. I would play whenever there is a chance. As a college student, I was a member of our chess team. During semestral breaks, I would continue playing with anyone. I can even remember that at some time, I have played in the Luneta to sharpen my skills.  

Despite my hectic schedule, I continued to read and collect books, magazines and anything there is about chess. In my spare time, I would visit websites and blogs talking about chess. I would keep myself updated in the latest chess development. I would play over on the chessboard featured games and analyze why the other side won or otherwise. I remember that the last tournament that I have joined is the PEACE tournament for executives.

After office hours, I would play chess with other players. On weekends, I would visit the Quezon City Memorial Circle to practice with anyone who would also like to play the game. But, the last time I went to the chess plaza, its no longer there perhaps due to the on-going renovations. If I had the time, I would visit the venue where chess tournaments are being held. I would observe the game and the disposition of the players.  

I am really busy with a myriad of things. Yet, I cannot escape the allure of chess. Perhaps, it is true that “once a chess player - will always be a chess player”.  As a tribute to the game and to help in further popularizing chess, I have decided to blog about it. I would attempt to share things that I have read and know about chess.  It is my view that despite the advent of computers, chess has not lost its enigmatic appeal and anyone who plays the game will continue to reap benefits. 

Benefits in Playing Chess

Here are just some of the benefits that I think can be gained from playing chess based on my own experience.

  1. Chess improves concentration
  1. It improves the ability to focus
  1. It improves analytical and creative thinking
  1. It improves the power of intuition
  1. Chess builds confidence and instills humility
  1. It teaches how to be calm amid chaos

Chess, as we all know it, is a mind game. It is a game where two opposing sides try to outwit each other on a board with sixty four (64) squares. The pieces have to work in harmony and in full coordination for purposes of attack and defense. Thus, it is necessary that the player should on each and every move concentrate to attain harmony and coordination amongst the pieces.

In every stage of the game – opening, middle game and end game – the player has to concentrate to achieve the most effective position for purposes of attack and defense.  The player should avoid any form of distraction that may result to playing mechanically and without a clear strategical or tactical objective. The lack of a coherent strategical or tactical goal often results to immediate loss. Often times, the lack of concentration makes the player to play the “book moves” and thereafter gets lost in complications. It is at this time, the player begins to lift pieces after pieces without a known purpose and thereafter prays that the opponent makes a mistake. If that opponents mistake fails to come, the player who lacks concentration would be lucky to escape with a draw.

Since the lack of it is punished almost immediately in the game of chess either by the loss of an important piece or the game itself, the chess player learns the value of concentration. Moreover, the player likewise learns how to concentrate even in the most difficult situations and to find the correct move either in a winning or losing position.  The chess player learns how to be calm and composed while   being under attack.  At the same time, the player on a position with the advantage learns to find the accurate continuation without rushing things.

With chess, anyone can learn how to concentrate on practically any goal or objective in life. The game instills the much needed discipline to absorb, meditate, and be aware of all the things happening around you. It cultivates attentiveness.

A chess player has to continually focus and meditate on each and every move that is being made on the chessboard. The player has to correctly “guess” the opponent’s true intention. Chess is a game of skill. It is not a game of chance. In order to subdue the enemy, it is necessary to know the enemy.  In a chess game, players sit for a long period of time, sometimes hours in tournaments, to complete a game. In this kind of situation, the player’s ability to focus for long periods of time is developed.

A player who has the ability to focus depending on the time allotted are often the most successful. Successful chess players have developed that innate ability and patience to stare at the chessboard and calculate the most effective series of moves but without wasting precious time. They may be seen walking on the hallways but their minds are always focused on the game.

In life, the ability to focus is a crucial element for success. If one is focused on a particular career, game or sport, the chances of achieving success is not far-fetched. If we are going to dissect the lives of those who gained success, it can be seen that their common denominator is that they focused their energy, talent, time and other resources to achieve their dreams and objectives in life.

Chess, in reality, is not a simple game. It is a game that is easy to learn but difficult to master. Its basic principles are easy to grasp but to attain perfection in the game requires years of study and practice.  The thirty two (32) chess pieces on the sixty four (64) square board can result to a million different combinations, tactics and variations. The initial impression that chess is simple is immediately changed the moment one gains a deeper knowledge of the game. Due to the game’s complex nature, it took hundreds of years before a computer defeated a human mind in a serious chess game.

In every game of chess, the player analyzes various variations on the board. Each move, whether a pawn or an important piece, changes the whole scenario on the board. In a very limited time, the effect and impact of the move in the prevailing position has to be discovered, understood and appropriately replied upon. And this can be only accomplished after a diligent analysis of the board.

 At home, a player during preparations for a particular tournament analyzes the newest ideas of the opening. Even the well known openings such as the Ruy Lopez and the Sicilian are continually dissected to discover and provide solution for whatever wrinkle that may be uncovered. While at present, computers are employed to aid in the analysis of the game it is still the human mind that processes the information and converts it into a concrete win. This greatly improves our ability to analyze.

Chess has been analyzed through the centuries. All the famous and important games have been reviewed and criticized. The opening moves of the game including the resulting variations have already been documented. And the refutations for moves that were previously thought to be accurate have already been unearthed. Yet, the need for creative thinking in the game of chess cannot be underestimated. It is a game that is not to be played mechanically or by just memorizing the book lines. While familiarity with the various tactical concepts such as the pin, the fork and the decoy are advantageous to any chess player it is he who has the talent of creating something new on the chessboard that becomes immortal. Take a look at the games of World Champion Mikhail Tal. His imagination and creativity over the chessboard produced unforgettable games.  In seemingly lucid positions, Tal would not play mechanically but would unleash creative attacks admired by players all over the world.

Of course, not all chess players become immortal like Tal but the game of chess is no doubt a very good training ground to make the mind creative and imaginative.

Intuition is defined as “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).  A chess game, with all its complications and innumerable variations, is always played with intuition.   The player chooses moves without a direct knowledge or inference of what is later on would appear on the chessboard. Each player, move by move, only makes a calculated guess of the end result. In fact, it is unclear why a particular game of chess progresses as it is and why such positions appear on the chessboard. In other words, while a player may accurately calculate the series of “forcing moves” during combinations and tactical assaults, it is only for a limited number of moves. After that period where the mind reaches its limit, it is now a matter of intuition. An example is the game between Kasparov and Nikolic at the 1992 Manila Chess Olympiad where the move (17. Nxg7) is definitely a product of intuition.

With chess, the power of intuition is discovered within the realm of one’s mind and further enhanced by every game that is played. During a chess game,  the mind of the chess player continues to intuitively determine how the game would progress. It is having that “gut-feel” but without a rational explanation why a particular move is good and playable.  This differentiates the human mind from computers. The former has the power of intuition while the latter only depends on pure mechanical calculations. Since it is only the human mind that has the ability to conduct intuitive thoughts, chess can a very good medium to develop such power.

Like any other game and sport, chess helps to build confidence and instills humility. Chess is a game where there would always be instances of victory and defeats.  The goal of a chess game is to impose one’s will over the other. It seeks to subdue and destroy the opponent. Legends say that chess was invented to spare the lives of soldiers in actual warfare but the goal remains the same that is to capture the enemy’s king.

Every time a player wins in a chess game, whether in a friendly game or in serious tournaments, confidence is developed. And since chess is not a team sport, a win belongs only to the player. It cannot be said, unlike in team sports like soccer and basketball, that the win can be attributed to strong teammates or other factors. In chess, it is no one but the player alone can claim merit for winning the game. Thus, a win instantly builds the confidence of the player. If a player defeats an opponent perceived to be stronger, confidence build-up also reaches a much higher level.

On the other hand, each time a player losses in a chess game, the player learns the value of humility. Every defeat reminds the player of his weakness. It reminds the player that despite all the success one has attained, no one is perfect. Each and every game demands the best effort from the player. He should not be complacent nor rest on his laurels. There is always a chance for a player to lose a game even in a winning position or against a much weaker opponent.

It is said that the true measure of a man can be seen on how he conducts himself during chaotic and stressful situations. History shows that heroes and great leaders have the quality of providing clear directions during challenging times.

In a game of chess, a player is always tested in different chess positions whether be it in offense or defense. In a blitz game, the player is mandated to execute strategies and tactics in not more than five (5) minutes. In this case, the player has to be calm throughout and not allow any form of distraction, including panic, to deter clear thoughts. The player has to solve puzzles on the board given a limited period of time. This exercise of finding the precise move while the clock is winding down teaches the mind to steer through complications and find a solution without the intervention of panic or any form of distraction.

In real life, this trait of being calm even under immense pressure is very important to a leader. If the leader panics, so are the subordinates. If this happens, anarchy sets in and the problem is magnified. With chess, anyone can learn how it is to conquer the mind and find calmness within to be able to find the right solution to an existing problem.


7. It is good deterrent to vices such as smoking, drinking alcohol and drugs.

Playing chess is a very good past time.  It is not expensive compared to other sports such as golf and kayaking. All that is needed to play chess is a chessboard, a table and benches. A chess clock can be dispensed with unless it is a very serious game.  Even makeshift chairs and tables can be used to play chess as long it is able to support the chessboard. It does not need a big space  to play the game unlike in basketball,  soccer and golf. 

There is no physical limitation in playing chess. Height is not a factor in a chess game. And since it is a mind game, age is not a limitation to play chess. Former World Champion Emanuel Lasker showed that even in advanced age, one can still play competitive chess. In other words, chess can be played and enjoyed anybody and even in street corners.

It is in this light that chess can be a very good deterrent, especially for the street children, to engage in vices such as alcohol, smoking and drugs. It is only in the idle minds where vices reside.  By playing chess, one can forget smoking, drugs and drinking alcoholic drinks.  With chess, everyone can engage in clean fun.

          8.      It encourages physical fitness

It is a misconception that chess does not promote physical fitness. While a chess game does not involve any physical exertion or effort like in other sports such as boxing, basketball and soccer, it actually encourages physical fitness. I have seen in her videos that World Women Chess Champion Alexandra Kosteniuk has taken up running to make her physically fit  in preparation for chess games. (Chess Queen Kosteniuk on Fox tv 1-25-09; http://www.youtube.com/). I knew for a fact that physical health is very important in having that mental alertness necessary in winning chess games.


9.     It helps in fostering a healthy social life

Chess is often viewed as a boring game. The common recollection of chess is two individuals sitting for hours in complete silence. They would only talk whenever there is a need to announce a checkmate or resignation.  It is in this regard that they consider chess as not a social game compared to other team sports. But in reality chess develops camaraderie and a healthy social life.

I made a lot of friends, both young and old, playing chess. I befriended those whom I played chess with and as well as the spectators and kibitzers. It is a game that does not inflict physical pain upon one’s opponent. There are also a lot of chess clubs, groups and organization one can join and be involved in.  In this manner, a healthy social life is developed. With chess, a lot of topics can be discussed. Chess players can share a variety of things that are of  common interest among them such as the latest chess books, the best computer software, results of recently concluded tournaments, post-mortem analysis of chess games, latest ratings and the life of famous chess players.

Acknowledgement

In creating my blogs, unless otherwise stated, I shall be aided by the following tools (1) Caissa’s Web PGN Editor ( http://www.caissa.com/chess-tools/pgn-editor.php); (2) ChessVideos.tv Chess Diagram Generator (http://www.chessvideos.tv/chess-diagram-generator.php) and (3) chessgames.com (http://www.chessgames.com/).

I encourage and welcome all comments, opinion and additional information regarding my blogs.  I would try to do my best in writing my articles  and cite all  its sources and references for the reader’s review and correction. 











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