The Unbearable Lightness Of Chess

May 9, 2017, 10:21 AM |

I recently stumbled across an anecdote about Albert Einstein and former world chess champion Emanuel Lasker, who were contemporaries and friends. Einstein mocked Lasker for devoting his considerable intelligence to a board game. This struck a nerve with me because ever since I started playing competitive chess, striving to improve, and taking pride in my improvement, the fact of the matter is that most people don't care (at best) or look down on all this (at worst). By now I've lost count of the number of disparaging remarks or backhanded compliments I've endured over the years.

There are several responses to this dismissive attitude:

  • Chess sharpens the mind and has real, practical benefits. As Benjamin Franklin observed, chess fosters the qualities of foresight, vigilance, and caution (I would add creativity).
  • Chess is a social game and provides a great opportunity to travel and meet people.
  • Chess mirrors life and features everything ranging from hope, anxiety, self-doubt, wrath, daring, perseverance, elation, and occasionally, despair -- all without the usual collateral damage.
  • Non-competitive players have NO idea how difficult it is to concentrate on a chess game for hours on end, and what an accomplishment it truly is to play multiple consecutive rounds regardless of the outcome. This is no different from climbing a mountain or competing in a triathlon.
  • There are many activities far less productive or useful than chess. To my mind, for example, it's ridiculous to spend one's time posting selfies to social media or paying to watch complete strangers play sports. 

Chances are that none of this will make a difference in the popular perception of chess as a mere curiosity that only oddballs take seriously. For anyone who is frustrated that so many people around you do not share your passion and excitement for the game of kings, do not resent them, but rather pity them for missing out.