Should your "better half" play chess?

  • GM Gserper
  • | Feb 3, 2013

In my column "Pros and Cons" I discuss the subjects that have no clear answer. Are doubled pawns good or bad, is an isolated pawn an asset or a liability, what's better a Bishop or a Knight?  The answer is the same to all these questions: "It depends!"  

Today I want to express my opinion on a subject which doesn't involve pieces and pawns but is very important for any chess player.  Do you want a soul-mate who is as avid about chess as you?  Of course the answer is still the same: "it depends". Intuitively you want to have a significant other who shares your passion for chess. I remember when I was a teenager, I was absolutely sure that my future wife would play chess (and I mean play well!). But slowly I moved to a totally opposite camp whose motto is "opposites attract", and their favorite joke is "one chess player in a family is already way too much". It was a long transition  but I can say that I am happy with the results as I managed to appreciate the little things in life that you tend to miss while being  obsessed with a tiny world of 64 squares. I learned that your partner doesn't need to be familiar with the Sicilian in order for both of you to enjoy a sunset, and a tasty meal (my wife is an excellent cook) doesn't require knowledge of basic endgames. Let me tell you about the exact moment of my transformation.

The year was 1999 and I was playing the US Championship in Salt Lake City (it is an extremely beautiful place by the way, so if you never been there, you definitely should check it out!). I was playing the semi-final match against GM Alex Yermolinsky and pretty close to winning my game and going to the final. Then time trouble set in, and to my horror I blundered my extra pawn. At the end I had to play accurately not to end up in a worse position. Judge for yourself:

So instead of winning the game and the match I had to play a tie break. As all chess players know too well, after such a horrible miss, a sleepless night was all but guaranteed! And here is where the miracle happened--a beautiful girl came to me and asked why I didn't capture my opponent's piece.  "What piece?", I asked. "This one", she replied and showed the palm of her hand with her fingers spread out. At first I didn't understand what she was talking about, but then it occurred to me that she was talking about the Queen, since this was exactly what the Queen looked like on a demo board.


Initially I wanted to explain to her her that I wish I could win my opponent's queen, but it was impossible to do, and then realized that it makes no sense to provide chess variations to a girl who didn't even know how the chess pieces were called. I was speechless. I still vividly remember the way she showed me the queen with her palm.  It was so funny, naive, and cute! No chess playing person would have been able to eliminate my stress in literally 2 seconds! Needless to say I slept that night like a baby thinking about that beautiful queen. The next day I won the match.

If this little story hasn't convinced you yet that a professional chess player needs a non-chess-playing spouse, here is an episode from another US Championship. By that time that beautiful girl was already my wife and knew all the pieces, but was still blissfully unaware of en passant, stalemate, and other mundane details of the royal game. The tournament wasn't going very well for me and my game vs. Ben Finegold was practically the last chance to improve my tournament situation and possibly win a better prize.  Alas, I screwed up again, and the game was a draw. 

Here is what I wrote in a blog :

Today after the game I had to apologize to my opponent (Ben Finegold) for the last 10 or so moves. Even spectators could see that all my efforts to convert an extra pawn were hopeless. Of course I knew that and still kept playing. I wasn't hoping for miracles or that my esteemed opponent would make some stupid mistake (he is much better than that). I kept playing for my wife who was watching the game online. She doesn't know how to play chess, but can count pawns. So I showed her that I couldn't possibly promote my extra pawn. It was my little way of saying "I am sorry honey for leaving you for 12 long days".

We live in a society where divorces are more the norm rather than an exception. Many of my grandmaster colleagues have been married 2-3 times. Is it that difficult to have a happy marriage? Every couple has its own recipes. My favorite is this: every morning you stop the temptation to check the results of that super-duper tournament and you don't turn on the computer to check how your stock portfolio is doing. Instead you listen to your partner over morning coffee. I ain't no Dr.Phil, but some common sense could save many marriages. In my case it helps a great deal that I am married to the best girl in the world.  Tonight she called me again. "I saw you couldn't queen that little guy, but it was an exciting game anyway. You played very well!"

"I know", I agreed, eagerly. After all, it is very good that she doesn't know how to play chess. 


  • 4 years ago


    Interesting position # 2.

  • 4 years ago


    Nice article :)

  • 4 years ago



  • 4 years ago


    this article is very instructional, the key to chess is to have two queens at the beginning of each match.  this is an underestimated huge advantage over opponent only having one.

  • 4 years ago


    But you did meet her at the chess tournament! What are the chances of meeting a non-chess playing girl at a chess tournament!

  • 4 years ago


    this is adorable.

  • 4 years ago


    Thank you for your wonderful article. When my wife and I play chess, she likes for me to play blindfolded; that way we're pretty even! And I agree -- Salt Lake City is a beautiful place.

  • 4 years ago


    AWWWWW!!!!! :P

  • 4 years ago


    A very interesting read!

  • 4 years ago


    What a great article!! This subject has certainly been on my mind several times, and recently I think I am making the switch myself :), although there is a certain satisfaction to being with someone who understands what I'm talking about :)

  • 4 years ago


    Did you absolutely have to use a picture from breaking dawn. The article was good, but Breaking Dawn. Really?

  • 4 years ago


    Wow, this article gave me chills..... There's definitely something to learn from it. Make others like this one, it was awesome!

  • 4 years ago


    My girlfriend said the article is great and you are a very wise man :)

    Many chess players should listen to you if they want to have a happy relationship.

  • 4 years ago


    Excellent; thank you!

  • 4 years ago

    CM Wolverine_master

    Beautiful Article!!, Cheers, greetings from Mexico you are incredible!

  • 4 years ago


    Why can't you vote on articles any more? 5 stars! Cool

  • 4 years ago


    If you are playing against your wife, do NOT sacrifice your queen! She might get the wrong impression.

    Great article by the way!

  • 4 years ago


    Totally agree!! small things in life are the most important

  • 4 years ago


    If you are a chess playing wife, and your husband is the one who doesn't like chess, don't worry about anything, play chess as much as you want, he will be looking at your smile and be glad for you... but DON'T act like you are smatter than him, and don't allow him to associate chess with smartness... Even if he suggests that you are smarter than him, respond by pointing out something that he is smarter about, that you don't have a clue about... Leave that skill alone and don't try to learn his knowledge, he is territorial and wants to be the master over something that you can't beat him at... My wife plays word games with her friends on her iphone and I don't try to beat her at those, instead she has her iphone and me my chess board and then we share together our wits in card games where we are equals.

  • 4 years ago


    Personally I think this article is like a consolation to try to make feel better those of us who have non-chess-playing wives. It hurts when my wife turns her head away from me and says "get that board away from me." If she cooks some nasty food that I don't like, I don't say, "get that slop away from me." .... You are right that it can be a blessing to have a wife that doesn't play, but you should try to prevent the situation of a wife hating chess. If you do fall in love with a girl who hates chess... but you know she is the right one for you... you need to prepare your heart for the possibility that her attitude might never change... and then you must get creative about ways of making sure you don't love chess more than you lover her... make some compromises, like sipping coffee and talking first before turning on the computer... and sacrifices like waiting until the cores are finished. (I am still working on that one)... DEFINATELY DO NOT MAKE MOVES WHEN YOU ARE MAD AT EACHOTHER. (unless you WANT to lose)... And do not use chess as a weapon to express your emotions against eachother, or else she will hate chess more, and never let you go to a tournament ever... Still do not let yourself be bullied, but try to lovingly insist that it is important to you in the same way that her shopping time (or whatever it is) is important to her.

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