Language of chess

Oct 5, 2008, 2:29 AM 2,347 Reads 9 Comments

Chess is for smart people.

I would probably have to agree with that. It's why chess is merely a hobby for me and not a moneymaker.

To the uninitiated I can talk a pretty good game. I can wow the neophyte kibitzers with terms like Prophylaxis, En Passante, Fianchetto, and Mocha Macchiato. My sons always ask me if they have to learn french to play chess well.

But ask me in what variations of the Sicilian the King's bishop should be fianchettod, and I might as well be a bowl of oatmeal. All of a sudden I sound like a tantrumming teenager talking back to his parents, "I'll fianchetto when I feel like fianchettoing!"

Chess has grown its own language. Like pretty much any other addictive genre in life, its ambassadors have attached ideas to words (in some cases words that are completely unique to chess) that have become ingrained in chess culture, and are now an important tool to conveying those ideas to those learning the game. (see this :

This phenomenon is of course not unique to chess. I watch the show Law and Order a lot, and so I have learned a lot of Law speak. Just enough to embarrass myself when actually talking to lawyers. I can't help throwing out terms like Debenture, and double jeopardy. Then again, I like to say J'adoube at all the wrong moments in a game of chess.. it really throws off my opponents.

I once claimed J'adoube at the blackjack table in Wendover and almost got myself thrown out of the casino.

So we learn the terminology in hopes of furthering our chess understanding. But language is a funny thing. Words can spark different ideas in different people's heads.

I was at a convenience store the other night with my son. I had told him we could stop and get a drink. I told him to look around and just grab two of whatever he wanted. As I waited by the register, my son calls to me from across the store "Hey Dad, can we get naked?"

I quickly traversed the floor with Deion Sanders-like closing speed. But as I approached my son, I saw in his hand a bottled drink called "Naked". I took the bottle from him, quickly read the label, and thought it actually sounded pretty good. Without thinking.. i replied "Sure son, lets get naked."

You should have seen the eyes of everyone in the store. Obviously we had ourselves a contextual disconnect.

This same son always gets in trouble in his openings, and then complains that he was just following some principle that I had taught him and it turned out to be wrong. The other day he hung a knight in the first 5 or 6 moves, and when I took it he yelled at me "You told me Knights before Bishops"!

The application of chess principles is certainly the tricky part to learning the language of chess. Chess is not so much a game of contridictions as it is a study in prioritizing principles. There is almost always a chess principle that applies to a given situation. But as positions get more complex, you have to prioritize your principles. Certain considerations simply take precedent over popularized chess mantras.

Take the following game between Korchnoi and Seirawan. Already Seirawan has achieved a promising position with the black pieces. Seirawan has just taken white's bishop on d5 giving Korchnoi a choice between cxd5 and exd5. What chess principle would you apply?


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