6 Ways the World Cup is Like Chess

6 Ways the World Cup is Like Chess

Jul 1, 2014, 12:00 AM |
72 | Fun & Trivia

The 2014 FIFA World Cup has reached a fever "pitch"! The knockout rounds have begun, six teams have been eliminated, and two more will fall today. The U.S. team faces Belgium in the round of 16 this afternoon, and many Americans are discovering the finer points of “the beautiful game.”

Spend any time around soccer and chess, and you will notice similarities between the two games. At their cores, soccer and chess are about the same things: managing territory, executing sound strategies, and, ultimately, defeating your opponent.

Here are six more ways World Cup soccer and chess are alike.

1. They’re International Games 


Little World Cup by Giulio Bernardi |CC

Soccer and chess are both widely played around the world. Some 158 member nations belong to FIDE, the international chess organization. Even more countries, 208, are members of FIFA, soccer’s global governing body.

To become champion in either soccer or chess, you have to beat the best each nation has to offer, whether it’s the soccer World Cup or the chess Candidates' Tournament.


Lomography Fisheye 2 @ Kefalonia (2012) by Laura Merrill Photos |CC

2. Combining Attack and Defense is Crucial


USMNT vs Honduras by Dan S |CC

Soccer and chess both require efficient use of limited resources. Soccer allows at most 11 players per side, and fewer if anyone is sent off for penalties. In chess, you get your 16 pieces at the start, and lose many of them to captures as the game progresses. You must make the most of your forces to have a chance of winning.

The best way to do this is combining attack and defense. In soccer, a quick counter-attack sprung from clever defense can be decisive. In chess, this is even more true, as long-range pieces can control key attacking and defensive squares at the same time. In chess, though, there’s no such thing as offsides.

3. Strategy Depends on Tactics


From Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary by Mary Margret |CC

In soccer, no high-level strategy can be achieved if the fundamentals of passing, dribbling, and shooting are deficient. In chess, all the strategy in the world won’t help you if you’re hanging pieces, getting forked, and getting mated.

As you’re crafting a long-term strategy, you must ensure the tactics work out. In chess, this means calculating variations, looking at forcing moves, and watching out for sacrifices and other tactical shots. In soccer, you must execute every action cleanly, whether it’s a pass, a shot, a dribble, or a save.

4. You Must Control the Center


via active.com

Controlling the center means you’re dominating the most important position in the game, whether you’re talking about a soccer field or a chess board. Controlling the center allows you to quickly deploy your forces wherever they need to go. Central control is also key to combining attack and defense.

In soccer, some of the best players in the world like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Brazil’s Neymar spend the bulk of their time in the mid-field, and for good reason. That’s where the action is.

5. Teamwork is Important


Argentina vs. Corea del Sur Mundial 2010 by Articularnos.com |CC

A single piece cannot force checkmate without help of some kind, whether it's from other attacking pieces or unwitting assistance from the opponent. It’s nearly as impossible for a single soccer player to win a game. Accomplishing anything in both games requires coordination and teamwork.

Superstar strikers in soccer would be ineffective if their teams couldn’t get them the ball. Most goals in soccer are scored after passes or crosses in front of the goal, allowing teammates to work together to score.

In chess, the hallmark of an effective strategy is pieces working well together, whether it’s coordinating for an attack or defense. Beginners often like to attack with one or two pieces for a quick shot, but it’s better to bring the rest of your army into the battle first.


check mate 2 - change of lighting by Edward Badley |CC

6. Good Conduct is Part of the Game


Suarez Bites Back by Paul Townsend

Soccer and chess are considered gentleman’s (and woman’s) games. Misconduct and poor sportsmanship are frowned upon in both games.

In the 2014 World Cup, Uruguay’s star forward Luis Suárez was suspended by FIFA after biting an opponent on the playing field. The FIDE laws of chess state in article 12, section 1 that “the players shall take no action that will bring the game of chess into disrepute.” Biting an opponent would certainly be considered disreputable.

No matter how frustrating a game you’re having, it’s best to save the biting for snack time.


handshake.jpg by Amy Goodman |CC

When you watch the World Cup knockout games in the next few weeks, keep in mind how soccer's fundamental elements are similar to chess.

What do you think are some other ways chess and international soccer are alike?


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