Chess – The Great Tradition That Won’t Fade Away
The 100th British Chess Championships opened up at the end of July, with Gawain Jones defending the championship down to Torquay. The game is still hugely popular worldwide, and those who achieve the status of Grandmaster – the highest possible ranking achievable – become almost mythical figures, worshipped as enigmatic geniuses, almost the opposite of almost any other popular sport, where the biggest stars in the games are never far from the newspapers, gossip mags and our TV screens.
The sport is often linked to high intelligence and the word “genius” is often muttered around the sport, but in truth, those who reach the highest level in chess skill usually get there with patience, experience and practice rather than having a naturally higher IQ. Various tests, including a 2006 study measured by Raven’s Progressive Matrices, have shown no difference in intelligence between strong adult chess players and regular people.
Association with genius and high level of intelligence is a stereotype that is quickly dispelled when you consider that many boxers play chess, and attributed it to them developing better concentration in the ring, something that is essential to them leaving the ring with their victory – and their senses intact.
Heavyweight champions Lennox Lewis and brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko are all keen chess players, and have often discussed publicly how beneficial it was to their careers. When Lennox Lewis visited an Ottawa boxing club in 2011, he told the young boys and girls at the club about the advantages that chess would give their game.
“If you teach a kid chess, you teach him to sit down and think,” Lewis told the Vancouver Sun.
“You think about strategy. You think about the next move. Chess is life. Most kids that play chess, they don't go out and stab somebody because they're thinking about the next move down the road, like ‘I could get in trouble and I could go to jail.’ Chess is good for kids in that sense.”
Although the majority of kids who play chess won’t be from the wrong side of the tracks, it does show that the game is still held in high regard, and can give people of all ages a great way to improve their focus and concentration, something that should be a high priority in the modern age, where smartphone technology, TV and video games are in such high demand.
Chess tournaments are still very popular across the UK and the world, with all age groups catered for, from schools to clubs across villages, towns and cities. Although it may not have the “cool factor” of other sports, it still has the power to garner headlines, especially when a new child prodigy is found, such as 15 year old Justus Williams, who became the youngest African American chess master in history at 12 and is now listed among the top-ranked youth chess players in the world.
There was also the famous chess match between Garry Kasparov – widely regarded as the best player of all time – and the computer Deep Blue in 1997. It was the first instance in which a computer defeated a world champion, an unprecedented upset at the time. The great bout was covered in the famous documentary film Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine in 2003.
With the sports origins steeped in over 1500 years of history, it seems highly unlikely that the sport is going to die out any time soon. Some traditions are stronger than the trends, and chess is a tradition that is stronger than most.