More Musings about Chess

Mar 22, 2008, 9:46 PM |

I have come to the conclusion that chess is mankind's most perfect game. Why? For a variety of reasons.

1) Chess is turn-based: It saddens me to see the contemporary gaming world's obsession with Real-Time Strategy (RTS) gaming. Sure, RTS games can be fun, and some would argue more realistic, but only a turn-based game allows the flowering of the human intellect. You see, with RTS games, you are often reacting to events so quickly that your mind does not have time to plumb the depths of strategy and tactics. As a result, victory often goes to the player with the quickest reflexes ("twitch gaming"). Not so with chess! A game of chess is won and lost strictly upon mental agility (unless you are playing bullet chess, something I consider an abomination to the true spirit of chess due to it's time control of game in three minutes or less).

Another great aspect of turn-based chess is Portable Game Notation (PGN). PGN scores allow an entire chess game to be precisely recorded. The biggest benefit of this (besides allowing a continuous record of chess games stretching back hundreds of years) is that every game is able to be analyzed by people around the world, and in modern times, computers. It is for this reason that the art (science?) of chess is so far advanced vis-à-vis other forms of gaming. As such, the thrill of chess is not just in playing the game, but also in re-playing the games of others. Few, if any, games allow such a massive cross-fertilization of minds.

2) The rules of chess are remarkably elegant: I was a wargamer long before I was a chess player and I can assure you that complex games become tedious fast - and quickly abandoned for that matter. After years of reading 50+ page rules sets for many wargames, it was a sublime pleasure to play a wargame (which chess surely is) that required mere minutes to learn but, at the same time, a lifetime to master. I guess we should not be surprised at the elegance of chess as it has been "in development" for over 1400 years!

3) Speaking of "1400 years," chess is playable history: It has seen an enormous span of human history. Indeed, the present configuration of medieval pieces reflects its witness to the Middle Ages. Sure, Medieval II: Total War is a fine simulation of medieval warfare, but only chess can claim to have actually been played during that actual era!

4) You can always find plenty of clubs and opponents: As a wargamer, it was always a challenge to find an opponent to play against using your favorite wargame (which is why over 70% of wargamers play solo). After all, how many people can you reasonably expect to find who share your enthusiasm for the naval campaigns of the Russo-Japanese War? Not so with chess! Chess is the universal language of gaming; people play it the world over. And, in the age of the internet, there are countless online clubs (such as the excellent that successfully provide ethereal homes to every conceivable type of chess player.

5) Chess is in the news: Who hasn't heard of Kasparov? Fischer? Spasky? Deep Blue? Try this test with any other parlor game you please and see if ordinary folks are as knowledgeable about its cast of characters. Enough said.

6) I could go on and on: computer science, Cold War politics, the largest printed library devoted to a single game, massive online and computer resources, art, movies, fiction, psychology, public education...chess has touched it all and more!