Monday, June 06, 2011

Things I like: Chess

Over the years, I've immersed myself in both the mythology and history of chess, which is endlessly fascinating, but also the actual playing of it. I probably own about 100 books on arcane chess theory and have went through entirely too many of them.

The main reason that I started reading so much about chess theory was that as a teenager I was tired of my dad handing me my ass on a plate every time we played. He'd never studied chess but is much more of a natural chess player than myself. Learning some theory helped me to level the playing field a bit.

An upcoming documentary on HBO on Bobby Fischer was what got me thinking about chess again. Fischer, a nut job and possessing of unforgivable opinions on many things in the real world (Jews among them), was, nonetheless, a genius and probably the best chess player of all time. Both his play and his unusual life made for great drama and the documentary should be interesting. Another movie that delves into Fischer, but more tangentially, is Searching for Bobby Fischer. It's the true story of chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin. It's a great movie with a nice cast: Joe Montegna, Joan Allen, Laurence Fishburne, William H. Macy and Ben Kingsley.

For all my interest in chess, I don't play a lot. The wife knows how to play but usually does not want to. My ingrained competitive nature does not make for an enjoyable leisurely game for her. My son seems to be developing a similar interest in chess and tries hard.

I'm not sure what fascinates me so much about chess. It's not a game or sport in the traditional sense. Chess prodigies have more in common with math and music prodigies than those that excel in other games.

The rules are relatively simple but the possibilities are endless. You could play all your life and never master it. Maybe that's what attracts me ... chess as a metaphor for life.

"That's what Chess is all about. One day you give your
opponent a lesson, the next day he gives you one." -- Bobby Fischer

Next up, tomorrow, Science Fiction


Jewish Atheist said...

Um, not to ruin your productivity for the rest of your life, but have you not discovered internet chess? :-) You can play at various time controls, from insanely fast (my preference) to glacial.

dbackdad said...

JA -- Yes, indeed. I have done just that several times in my life, though it's been a few years.

wunelle said...

I've always felt I'm missing something with chess. I don't play and never have, apart from a few games in high school.

I think the problem for me is that--I must admit it--I have absolutely no capacity for strategic thought. And this holds true for any kind of game really: if I could play better by concentrating and playing scenarios out further and further in my mind before putting into plan a course of action, then I'm virtually guaranteed to fail.

On the plus side, I don't much care about losing all the time! We play cards (wife and in-laws and me) and I almost always lose. But I'm a happy loser, and I enjoy the camaraderie much more than I need to win / dislike losing.

CyberKitten said...

I can think tactically enough to give the average player a good game of chess but have problems thinking strategically - maybe that's just a combination of lack of practice or knowledge though.

Generally I find that if I try to think more that three moves ahead it feels like my head will explode with the possibilities!

dbackdad said...

I don't want to give anyone false illusions. I love chess and try to get better ... but I'm just a hack like everyone else.

shrimplate said...

I've been hacking away at chess ever since I was little; my dad taught me and my prother how to play when we were 5 or 6.

Wunelle- one of the things I enjoy about the game is its "musicality." Reading through the games of past masters is something like listening to music.

Occasionally I play online but usually I just play out old games on the board. Aside from Fischer I've always gravitated towards Alekhine, Nimzowich, Bent Larson, and of course the whole Soviet school.

Among openings I've always gravitated towards the Najdorf Sicilian, the Grunfeld, and other flank openings like the English, though online I have regularly played P-K4 with white.

I remember seeing Bobby Fischer on the Tonight Show decades ago after he pounded the hell out of Spassky. Johnny Carson had one of those little Woolworth's alphabet puzzles where you slide the randomized letters around to re-alphabetize them. Like a two-dimensional Rubik's Cube thing.

"How long does it take you to solve one of these?" Carson asked while he was scrambling it.

"That depends on how well-lubricated it is," said Fischer.

Carson handed it to him and they continued the conversation. It took Fischer maybe not quite 30 seconds to slide everything into its proper order.