KindredSpirit’s Kaleidoscope: Just What is Chess?

What is chess?  Is it sport?  Is it art?  Is it science?  These questions often are seen as a simple sentence or question: “Is this board game a science, an art, or a sport?”  More affirmatively put:  “Chess is a science, an art, and a sport.”  Lets see what some famous players had to say on the topic under discussion.  My reader comments are welcome!

GM Dr. Max  Euwe  comments:

“Emmanuel Lasker used to say that chess is a struggle.  I fully agree with him.  Lasker believed, and I think he was right, that the struggle on the 64-squares, the sport over the chess board, can be studied and advanced on a scientific basis.

“The aesthetic side, in my opinion, takes place mostly in chess studies.  Individual games in tournaments may also be considered from the point of view of aesthetics, but one gets an opportunity not too often.  I think it is impossible to consider every position from the point of view as art.

“The main object of a chess game remains the achievement of victory.  This determines it as a sport.  If any person were to make a weak move with the sole object of setting up a beautiful position, anyone would tell you that this is a bad move.”

GM Mikhail Botvinnik comments:

“My point of view boils down to the following: chess, first of all, is a game.  But if any succeed in producing  a game that keeps on living and is played over and over again for many years, chess becomes an art.

“I do not consider chess a science.  But it also has an element of science in it without which it is impossible to play chess really well.  However, this element plays after all, only a secondary role.”

GM Vassily Smyslov comments:

“I consider chess an art.  My father was a musician and a strong chess player.   He was extremely proud when he once managed to win against Alekhine. He taught me to play chess at the age of seven.  I grew up in an atmosphere filled with music and chess.  And to this very day of my life is dedicated to both of these forms of art.”

GM Mikhail Tal comments:

“Chess first of all is art.  How else can its tremendous force of attraction be explained?  Why is it that millions of people from many countries play with thousands attending tournaments and untold number analyze and play over such games and its theories?  The only explanation, as I see it, is the colossal aesthetic influence that this game exerts.”

The aesthetic beauty of chess certainly can be seen in many of the beautiful chess sets and boards, especially those in museums. Some comments by the four GMs from my view were garbled in the translations.  But the richness of aesthetic beauty rests more in the position whether it be from games, studies or problems, concocted to charm the viewers who come across them in finding the perfect art of composing a worthy challenge. In some comments the question went off track and missed the mark.  But to me, chess is art and Tal’s comments come close to my own views.   Art in chess extends into creativity which none of the GMs used to explain the art of chess. Take the brilliant concepts in attack or clever defense. This is pure creativity at its best.  The sport aspect is clearer still.  The ignorance of the Olympiad committee who possess no understanding of what makes a sport is dumbfounding in this age of history .  To them, and to many others in the physical sport agenda, there is no physical endurance because basically they see it as two players seated at a board in virtual no motion. They obviously never saw the pressure on the psychic experienced with using the time clock.  It took Bobby Fischer to challenge this by saying that a chess player in a tournament game or any serious play uses as much physical energy as a boxer in three rounds of slugging it out.  In all honesty, can anyone say that it is not a sport?  Sport aims at winners. The chess tournament and match structure fit like a glove with all physical sporting events because, in each case, the idea is to produce a champion, a first place where players exert enormous stress during such competitions.  In conclusion, I might suggest that the symbolic power of the pieces that sit on the sixty-four squares display on the chess board great power in skillful hands.

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