What Was Your Chess Spark?

Not long ago, Sigma Xi, a research society of nearly 60,000 scientists worldwide that includes several Nobel Prize winners, asked their members to document how they first became interested in science.  Was it a teacher?  Something they read?  The membership responded with a flood of fascinating anecdotes.  You can read all current submissions that have been collected into the document, What Was Your Spark?  (Search on my name, and you can read my own science spark.)

I thought it would be interesting to ask chess.com members to document their chess spark stories.  Just tell your story by adding a comment below.

My own chess spark is this.  Four years ago, I enrolled my younger daughter (chess.com name:  eskici) in a weekly chess class for children.  She’s exceedingly bright, excels in geometric thought, and I knew that she could become a good chess player if the game captured her interest.

At the time I knew how to move the pieces (exception:  en passant!) and that was about it.  Growing up in small-town Iowa in the 50’s-60’s was not conducive to becoming a chess master.  My parents gave me a chess set, but there was no one for me to play with.

I took my daughter to class each week, and sat inconspicuously in the back of the room.  I listened attentively as Lou Cyccone, a well-known chess instructor in Michigan (and who has encyclopedic knowledge of the game, incidentally), gave a mini-lesson to a small group of elementary-age school children.  One early lesson concerned the concept of development in the opening. 

That made sense to me.  I sat up, more attentive than before.  Another time Lou discussed mobility of pieces, pointing out that one young member’s bishop was acting primarily as  a “giant pawn” protecting the pawn adjacent to it rather than seeking out a more active square.

I was hooked.  After a few weeks, I began to play chess on my PDA, rather than watch the class.

The class was held in a large room next to the local chess store, “All the King’s Men” in Warren, Michigan.  Giving up the PDA, I started to lurk about the tables in the store, watching the mostly male members play skittles each Tuesday night while I waited for my daughter. 

The players as well as the game fascinated me.  They were from all walks of life, and chess skill, rather than socio-economic status, was what counted in this room.  I saw speed chess for the first time and felt like laughing out loud at the impossibility of it.  The trash talk amused me.  Creativity over the board and the tongue was everywhere in the room.

I browsed the lengthy book collection, purchased a few, and began to study.  I played against my PDA at home, becoming extremely excited when I won my first game.  I continued to haunt the club each Tuesday night.

Finally and with great trepidation, I garnered the courage to actually play a game at the club.

I was easily crushed by my opponent.  I played again and was crushed again.  I lost 21 games in a row before my first win against someone even more ignorant than myself.  But I was not deterred.  I bought more books and hardly a day went by when I did not study, play, or both.

Eventually, I won an occasional game at the club and I was elated.  Even if I was defeated, I felt happy if I made my opponent work for the win.  I was determined to improve.

That was four years ago.  Today I have myself on a daily study plan with a different activity each day of the week, and I play daily on chess.com.  Chess is now a passion for me.  The Passion of Chess.

That was my chess spark.  What is yours?


  • 8 years ago


    Santa Claus got me a Chess Set.

  • 8 years ago


    I can hardly remember anymore.......

    I believe that I saw a couple of older people play when I was around 6-7 years old. I was curious and wanted to get to know the game better. I had my mom buy me a couple of books and was only slightly intrigued. Then my friend David Lu, began winning tournaments. I then got really hooked to try and match him. Then I met Jae Smith, who could whip my butt to california in 2 seconds in chess, and wanted to get better. After that, I became really busy and had to lay off for a while. Since then, my skills have been decaying and have just brought back the interest because of Jae...I was hoping for a better comeback, but I guess that's what I get for not playing for a long time.....

  • 8 years ago


    My Spark = Growing up around folks (parents and relatives) that shared the same passion and interestSmile. It may’ve been a simple family reunion, or a kid’s birthday party. It didn’t matter if was a vacation trip to a beach resort or the Christmas/New Year holidays, a BBQ or a Bridal shower! Somebody, somewhere, somehow would ask the inevitable, “Anybody wanna play chess?”


    We even played chess in Church – after the service, of courseInnocent.




    Other sparks include = School life and Work life; I had a Tournament sized Staunton Chess set with a traditional folding board in my school locker, and mini magnetic chess set in my handbagTongue out.


    I didn’t have problems finding friends or colleagues that wanted a game to relieve stress or to kill timeWink.

  • 8 years ago


    My dad taught me how to play when I was very young and then I learned about the "glossy" hero Bobby Fischer. It wasn't until years later, when I was older, that I gained a deeper understanding about Fischer the man. Mikhail Tal would later move to the forefront of chess heros for me due to his style of play. So I guess you could say that a large part of my spark is my fascination with the great personalities that play the game as well as there skill. I am surpised that there are not more books witten on the wonderful personalities that can be found throughout chess history.

  • 8 years ago


    when i was very little i would play games with my father, (we played the israely opening: a4 - h5.

    one day my family invited some friends over and thier 15 or so year old son, he was the first who ever shown me that you could open a game of chess with e4, d4 and so on... :), i let it go and didn't play for a long while.

    lonly last year i started to show interest in chess again, after i got a new computer with a chess program next to the minesweeper and the card games, i started playing aginst it and learnt the basic rules, then i met a friend at school who was very good at chess, i played him often and he would beat me, so i checked the web for articles about chess, found the site and started playing, of course that wasn't enough to beat the 7th place in the country (i'm not sure what place, but high), so i also hired a teacher, now i'm learning and improving constantly...

    and somtimes i beat the hell out of my friend :) 

  • 8 years ago


    Rueben Fine's book, The Ideas Behind Chess Openings. The second edition, bound in leather, published in 1948. I found it in our house when I was aged 12 ( my father had borrowed it from a library 10 years previously, and had failed to return it). For whatever bizarre reason, I tried to read it and, in the process, taught myself the moves, chess notation (the old P-K4 kind, which I still prefer), and the Ruy Lopez.

    I was utterly astonished to discover that there was rhyme, rythm, reason, in the seeming chaos of a chessboard - perhaps the whole world is like that, I hoped and wondered, and not just the booming confabulation that constantly threatened to overwhelm me.

    The next year I entered high school and joined the chess club. A school competition, open to all ages and teachers, was held. After I beat the French teacher in the final, I felt more bemused than elated: if I, an ignorant, lost, confused kid, could win this thing, what did that say about the world? In the end, I concluded that there was science and art - truth and beauty - in chess and life, but that we people had a long way to go to learn how best to play chess and live life.

    I stopped playing after finishing school, until - thirty years later - I stumbled across chess.com on a slow afternoon. I am not very good, but the notion that chess is a prism through which to examine, and enjoy, the universe, remains at the core of my fascination with this wonderful, though highly distracting, game. Thank you, Mr Fine.









  • 8 years ago


    I am only 16 but here it is.

    When I was in preschool i greatly admired the medieval times. The Knights, Archers, Robin hood, Catapaults and everyone going off to war.

    I loved the way their battles were played out with defence, offence, tactics and ploys to distract the enemy. Then my father introduced me to chess (around the age of 10) - and I was hooked. Through these pieces I saw through them - and I felt transported back to the medieval times. Rooks I saw were acting as Catapaults, threatening the backer lines of the opponents defences, pawns were the tool of the game as they were the frontline men, sacrificing themselves and being right there amongst the rabble. The hero? - the queen of course! ABle to adapt to any situation and possessing the ability to turn the tide of a game in an instant. With chess, also came the tactics of warfare. When to attack, when to defend, Spotting where your opponent is weak...

    And today chess for me is still like playing out a war, a battle in less than  half an hour...

  • 8 years ago


    Chess is a 'wargame', that's why I liked it, but what really added 'fuel to the spark' which became a fire(a small, long burning fire-for now) was reading chess books by Aron Nomzowitsch, My System and Chess Praxis - which I lost during a flood in our placeCry. Hopefully I can save some to buy these great books again. More power.Cool

  • 8 years ago


    When I was young 4-10 or so, mostly during elementary school as far as i can remember, my best friend lived about a block away from me and he played in lots of scholastic chess tournaments. I never did, I never was pushed in that direction by my parents or had much drive myself. Anyway, he won state championships for 3rd graders 4th graders etc. then he stopped playing after elementary school. He may have played a little in middle school but not much. I started developing other friends and so I saw him less and less. I had learned how to play from him but I didn't really have any spark in me.

    Sometime in early high school, a few seniors would play chess by the library and some games I would sit in and watch them. A couple of my friends would join me and we often would spend our lunch times and study halls playing. Sometime around then I got a chance to play my old friend who had won all those tournaments a game and I smashed him. Turns out he hadn't been playing at all and had gotten quite bad.

    Around that time I would play my father a game occassionally also and he used to win most of them but by the end of high school I had stopped losing to him. Also at this time I tried to revive an actual chess club at CHS but never more than 5-6 people showed up so it got canned after half a year of dwindling attendance.

    Corvallis is too small to have any tournaments except scholastic ones, and I don't have the confidence to travel 2-3 hours by car or bus to play in a tournament in Portland or Grants Pass etc, so I play recreationally but the spark is my desire to start playing in tournaments, so I try to keep my skills sharp and I play here and in coffee shops and at the monday night chess clubs.

  • 8 years ago


    I was fascinated by the pieces, not just as a child, but even when I was older, into twenties. There seemed to be something almost mystical about the way they moved -- it seemed almost as though they had minds and personalities of their own. 

    None of my friends knew how to play so the game remained a mystery until I was well over thirty then, in 1971, there was a surge of interest where I worked and I seized the opportunity to learn.  (Thank you Mr Fischer!)

    I was awful but thoroughly enjoyed the game and it's remained one of my lifelong enthusiasms.

  • 8 years ago


    I've known technically how to play chess (besides en passant) since I was about 8 years old. It wasn't until about 6-7 months ago when I really got hooked. I was looking for an online game to entertain me and saw Yahoo! Chess and played a few games. I was crushed easily in my first 20 odd games before I decided to google chess strategy and such and eventually taught myself the basics of endgames and used wikipidea to study and get some idea of openings. I don't consider myself very good, considering the level of play I have seen, especially on this website, however I am happy with my level of skill (aka I'm better than everyone I know =P).

  • 8 years ago


    I learned when I was 7 and played in a couple of scholastic tournaments until I was 8.

    I then couldn't find anyone to play chess with and my interest slowly faded.

    When I was 12, I started playing Yahoo Chess. I played it quite a long time, until about I turned 13. I then looked for other sites, and Google directed me here.

  • 8 years ago


    I saw Kirk and Spock play,thank you for asking.


  • 8 years ago


    At age 12 in 1972 while Bobby Fischer was in the news, we had college students rent the upstairs apartment.  One of them played chess in tournaments.  I asked him to teach me.  Within 6 months he could not beat me anymore. 

  • 8 years ago


    I learned maybe at the age of 7/8/9 my dad told me about how to move the pieces, and I always liked games, like PC games (spectrum at the time) and specially beating others, but my dad never let me win so I lost interest in it :) Then when I was 18 in the school, there was a simultanious exebition by the portuguese champ at the time GM Antonio Fernandes I guess, and he let me win, and I thought damn Im really good at this I should start playing it! :)

    So I enrolled in my first chess tourny, it was a blitz chess 5m and I manage to do ok was probably 1600 player in tactics but would play really very fast.

    After that I enrolled in a chess club, it was quite far from my hme like 1 hour away, I made my first slow games and was playing quite ok for a begginer, never really had the phase of hanging pieces not developing no castling etc, made those errors and still do in other ways, just not that begginer look like, I kept playing at club level at 19 I played my first nacionals, It was quite exciting for me, I did ok in my first game (I had no rating) played a 2100 player, it was a french defence I was white, and kept the all game making moves to defend the d4 pawn, I never ever did study anything at all, openings tactics, much less watching games from masters or miniatures, eventually lost the pawn so started a kingside attack and it went well, so I managed to find a draw by perpetual check I was quite happy with that :) In the last game I was playing for the third place would be amasing if I would win, it was a drawn position I forced it and lost finished in something like 13º

    I kept playing in tournys and got my rating 1850 fide! :) Not bad since never opened a book or had any training at all before March 2008 :P

    Then in 2006 I had a car wreck and minor brain damage, and since Im quite crazy I thought about the hardest thing possible to do (Always liked challenges) and I choosed to become a pro chess player, so my objective now is to become gm but 2600++ making life only from playing chess not by teaching or some other stuff.

    By now my rating probably should be around 2000, but still need lots of work to do better to go do it ;)

  • 8 years ago


    My father taught me the game when I was quite young, maybe 4 or 5. He never let me win. He would tell me, "control the middle," and little else.

    By the time I was 16, he could not beat me, and refused to play me anymore.


    I'm going to teach my children, and I too, will never let them win ;)

  • 8 years ago


    I've been playing chess for as long as I can remember, probably since I was 4 or 5. Many people at my primary school played it, as well as my father, so I quickly picked it up.

  • 8 years ago


    Spassky v Fischer.

  • 8 years ago


    My next door neighbor taught me how to play chess when i was around 6 years old. He was 3 or 4 years my senior and i remember him bragging to his mom how he was going to run me over with his pawns. They both laughed. I didn't know what his pawns were but i was going to watch out for them.

    He had big pieces with diagrams at the base showing how the pieces moved. I still today miss that chess set. I lost countless games with him over the summer as he was always willing for a quick slaughter.

    Then one day it happened. I beat him. That was the last game we ever played. It was either the humialtion of defeat, or maybe he discovered girls.

    But chess was always "cool" for me after that.

  • 8 years ago


    I started playing chess about 5 years or so ago. It was a school tournament and I was in 7th grade. I had learned how to move the pieces by playing against a computer program on beginner level, but I learned beyond that. In the tournament I learned how to Queen Raid, and Scholar's mate. Hardly real chess, but it got me hooked on the game, especially since I placed 2nd in the tournament (no one really knew how to play the game). Then in high school freshman year I joined the chess club with ambitions of making the varsity team. There i began to learn the real fundamentals of chess. 4 years later of playing against other school teams, better/more experienced upperclassmen, studying, and playing alot, I've become a decent player (relatively lol) who still loves the game and probably will until the day I die.

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