Playing Chess for Enjoyment, Friendship and Practice

Playing Chess for Enjoyment, Friendship and Practice

Are you the kind of player who wants to throw a tantrum whenever you’re beaten? The kind who spends his time reading chess books not because they’re interesting, but because you like beating others?

On one hand, there’s nothing really wrong with this kind of attitude, especially for competitive players. On the other, 95% of people who play chess just like to enjoy the game, which most often means playing socially in a low-pressure environment.

Making New Friends

I mostly play chess with José. He lives across the street from me, which is convenient in the afternoons when I get tired of working. He also plays against his smartphone for hours every day, which is…aggravating. He’s just that much better than me, actually taking the time to practice openings – then again, playing against stronger players is the only way anyone, including me, gets better. It does become less fun when he starts shaking his booty in a victory dance, though.

He will always – literally at every opportunity, regardless of what opening we play – go bishop takes knight at F3. Sure, this leaves me with a double pawn, but he loses a developed piece while I (hopefully) make hay in the center. This also forces me to castle to the queen’s side, but I kind of prefer that anyway in a fluid game.

The interesting thing about this is that José and I don’t have many interests or even a completely fluent language in common. Discussing much beyond what’s going on in the game takes actual concentration. Yet we are friends of a sort, playing about nine games a week. This occurs on the sidewalk in front of his bodego, or in my garden where we both have our own hammock (with the chess board in between). In case you’ve never played chess lying down, most people probably haven’t, then buying a new hammock and making a habit of this is highly recommended. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Getting to Know People

Again taking José as an example, the discrepancy in how we approach the game is somewhat weird. I almost always play defensively, developing my position while he plays tactically, usually by putting my king under pressure even if this leaves him vulnerable. To put this another way: I’m pushing my pawns angling for an advantage in ten moves’ time: he wants to metaphorically bash my brains out and is confident that he’ll be able to handle whatever countermoves I make. If he plays white, the queen’s gambit is 50% likely to happen, while it’s often the English opening if I have the first move.

Is this a reflection of our respective personalities? It could be, at least to some extent. Top players are notoriously competitive, even to the point of murdering their opponents on occasion. This is usually combined with an iron discipline and an impressive capacity for logical thought. In my opinion, these qualities actually outweigh intelligence when it comes to the outcome of a game.

So, my friend José typically wants to win in the least amount of moves and considers a draw as a loss, while I’m more interested in how the wider situation unfolds. Perhaps my attitude would change if we were to play for money. Some players are willing to assume bigger risks, some love to shake things up by playing their own variations or doing something counterintuitive. How much of this translates into the way people approach daily life is debatable, but experience suggests that at least some of these tendencies are part of an individual’s personality in general.

Equal Opportunity Sport

Who has gone to an amateur chess tournament and not seen someone in a wheelchair? For that matter, there are usually children around, often giving adult players a serious run for their money. Every skin color is represented (although women still form a distinct minority).

With so few barriers to playing chess, it’s not surprising that people from all backgrounds learn to play and perhaps become a little obsessed in time. Aside from rivalry such as existed during the Cold War, your nationality, accent or nett worth means nothing.

Sport is supposed to be a unifying factor in society, but few games are quite as democratic as chess. Genetics, steroids, exclusive training, expensive equipment: none of these factors influence a player’s skill level all that much. With so many forces nowadays trying to create artificial boundaries between different groups, promoting chess as a game for everyone constitutes a point of light.