Are you curious about chess? Want to start playing chess? This article by Boon Tiong Tan is for you
PHOTOS BY Koesen Wong & COURTESY OF Adobe Stock & Pexels
Netflix’s The Queen’s Gambit has brought sexy back to chess; it’s cool and popular again. But why the title? The Queen’s Gambit is actually the name of a chess opening in which the white (always makes the first move of a game) dares the black to take a seemingly free pawn on the queen’s side. And yes, there’s an opening named the King’s Gambit where the pawn offered is on the king’s side. While the difference seems tiny, these two openings develop into wildly different games.
Chess is a game of skill not chance, and it has fascinated people for hundreds of years. Karl Marx, when not thinking about making society more just, and much to his wife’sexasperation, would disappear with his friends for days at a time on chess binges. So, if you want to give chess a try, how do you start? Like almost everything, you can learn the basics, like the names of the pieces (the chessmen) and how they move, on YouTube. Know that a typical game has an opening, a mid-game and an endgame. During the opening, you have two main aims – to take control of the centre and develop your knights and bishops. Now that my daughters have mastered this, beating them is a lot harder. The good old days of me checkmating them in a few moves is history.
PLAYING MIND GAMES
Chess is a board game with 32 pieces played over 64 squares. How complicated can that be? The answer is, it is extremely complicated. The permutations are mind blowing, and there are an infinite number of possible move combinations – more than all the sand in the world. Little wonder chess has always been considered a game for the intelligentsia, and the strongest grandmasters have IQs of 180 plus. In his autobiography, Sir Alex Ferguson wrote that if he were to start his football managing career all over again, he’d want all his players to learn how to play chess. Athletes need both brains and brawn, after all, and chess teaches you how to focus and think a few moves ahead.
As well as training analytical minds, chess teaches responsibility. You make the decision for every move. If you lose, you can’t blame the weather or put it down to rotten luck. Russian chess grandmaster and former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov thinks every school should teach chess.
Is chess a sport? If you think this is an absurd question and your answer is a resolute no, read on. The reigning World Chess Champion, Norwegian Magnus Carlsen, prepares himself for a tournament exactly like an elite athlete. He runs, he plays soccer and he does yoga. He has a personal chef and he watches his diet.
While Roger Federer needs to run around a tennis court for an hour to burn 600 calories, Magnus Carlsen burns the same amount in two hours simply by sitting and moving his arms across a chess board intermittently.
In extreme cases, top chess players can lose up to 20 pounds in one tournament. (The World Championship Series is often played over a matter of weeks, to allow each player time to recover from the mental exertion of the games they have played, as much as to allow time for the games themselves.) On average, world chess champions peak in their mid-30s.
GOING INTO BATTLE
Chess probably originated in India 1,500 years ago. The Arabs brought the game to Europe in the 7th century and it evolved into its current form in the 15th century.
The first World Chess Championship took place in 1886, but it didn’t hit many people’s radars until 1972, when the eccentric American genius Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky, smashing 25 years of Soviet chess hegemony. Two decades later, machines entered the fray. Garry Kasparov took up the challenge to play against Deep Blue, an IBM supercomputer. He won in 1996 but lost the following year’s rematch. The machine never looked back.
As almost anyone can tell you, to win at chess you need to deliver a checkmate (trap your opponent’s king). Your chessmen are your army, and the queen is the most powerful piece on the board. This
is largely due to her mobility – she is able to move any number of squares vertically, horizontally or diagonally. How powerful is the queen compared to other pieces? There is a simple point system to answer this question. A queen is worth 9 points, a rook 5 points and a minor piece (bishop or knight) is worth 3 points.
The king is much less mobile than the queen – he can move only one square in any direction – but during an endgame, he can be formidable.
The terms ‘knight,’ ‘en passant’ and ‘grandmaster’ lend chess a certain mystique but the game is easy to learn with only a few rules, and it’s fun to play with limitless possibilities. You just need to download a free chess app (like www.chess.com) and you can start playing with tens of millions of chess enthusiasts all over the world. Just like in amateur tennis, the winner of a chess game is not the player who hits the best shots but the player who makes the least mistakes. Avoid the following and you will immediately up your game. Many beginners like to move their queen during the opening. Top chess players almost never do that. While the queen is powerful, she is not invincible – if you leave her unprotected, she can be chased around the board by your opponent’s chessmen. Without support from other pieces, she can end up being trapped and ‘killed.’ Picture a lion being brought down by a clan of hyenas.
While it is true to some extent that offence is the best defence, no good chess player can afford to focus solely on offence. You need to play offence and defence at the same time, all the time. Just look at Liverpool FC: Despite a formidable attacking force, their success came only after they acquired goalkeeper Allison Becker and defender Virgil van Dijk. When Liverpool lost their central defenders to injuries this season, they lost an unprecedented six matches in a row at Anfield, their home ground.
In a football match, a team that has 20 shots at the goal but none in the net loses to the opposing side that has only one shot and one goal. It’s the same with chess. Checks do not win a game, only a checkmate does. Beginners love to check when there are other better moves to make. Don’t check too much.
DB resident Boon Tiong Tan (CFA) has worked as a trader with banks like HSBC and Morgan Stanley for over 20 years, and he is the author of A Stock Investment Book For The 99%. For information about the one-on-one courses (money management, stock investment, options trading and CHESS) that he provides for both adults and kids, email [email protected].