Booming Interest in Amateur Chess?

I was given a gift of a coffee mug with the logo of the Economist magazine. It was filled with java at a Borders bookstore as I awaited a student when a young fellow walked over after seeing the mug. He began talking to me as if I were an arch conservative. I mostly nodded and grinned, preferring at that time to not engage the fellow in a political discussion. Every time I saw the man after that he would smile and say hello. I always feared the offer of some kind of secret handshake to which I would not know how to respond. Fortunately, it was not forthcoming. My conservative friends find some of my views too liberal; my liberal friends think me too conservative.
Because of the upcoming World Championship there is an article about chess in the latest edition of the Economist magazine. The title is, “Professional chess has a chequered history. Fans hope to revive it.” The article comes sans byline, at least in the online edition. It is written that, “Match organizers see a chance to turn a struggling sport into a global brand.” Good luck with that…
The article continues, “Time was when the world stopped for professional chess. Millions watched Bobby Fischer, an American, beat the Soviet Union’s Boris Spassky in 1972. In the 1990s a pair of matches between Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue, a computer, recaptured some of that suspense. Yet despite booming interest in the amateur game, top-level chess has become obscure again, hobbled by squabbles and eccentric leadership.”
Come on, get real! The so-called “matches” Kasparov played versus the computer program captured none of the suspense of the Fischer-Spassky match! This is what happens when someone who was probably not alive in 1972 writes about chess. I started playing tournament chess in 1970 and am here to tell you the excitement was palpable. I have experienced nothing remotely similar since that time. Chess was in the news and on the minds of almost everyone in the world. All of a sudden it was “cool” to play chess, and I was no longer considered “weird” for playing the Royal game. Chess sets were everywhere and hardly a party I attended did not see people playing a game. The only “suspense” in the series of games between Deep Blue and Kasparov was how much bigger a fool the later would make of himself as the games continued. With the last game debacle Kasparov went out with a whimper. The “bang” was created when he made an ass of himself. Chess has never recovered from the damage done to the game by the human player known as Kasparov. When someone learns I play and teach chess they ask, “Why? I thought chess ended when that machine beat the Russian. What was his name?” Mostly they recall Kasparov’s histrionics and “sour grapes” attitude, along with the fact that he was the human that lost to a machine. People still write that Kasparov was “the greatest of all-time,” but the simple fact is that he will always and forever be known for losing to a machine. It overshadows everything he accomplished in the world of chess. There was a time when people talked in hushed tones about the possibility Kasparov took a dive in the series of games with Deep Blue. Now people speak of it overtly.
The article can be considered as gauge of public opinion concerning the state of chess today. Perception is reality and the perception is best illustrated by the following, “Critics gripe about mercurial decision-making within FIDE. The sport’s governing body gets by on some $2m a year (FIFA, football’s federation, spent more than $1 billion in 2012) and has had only two presidents in 31 years. Its boss since 1995 has been Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, who also ran Kalmykia, one of Russia’s poorest regions, until 2010. That year Mr Ilyumzhinov said he was once contacted by aliens; in 2011 he played chess with Muammar Qaddafi.”
The perception meets reality when it comes to the official chess body of the world, FIDE, being led by a nut-job.
Then there is this, “A deeper challenge is that watching chess is less fun than playing it. A single game can last six hours; its most riveting moment may be a strategic nuance known as the Yugoslav variation on the Sicilian. “Good chess leads to draws,” says Maurice Ashley, an American grandmaster. Mr Ashley believes that new game and tournament formats could attract a wider audience. Competitors in blitz chess must finish their games in half an hour. Matches lasting minutes make popular footage online. Yet many players resist fast games, arguing that they reward low-quality chess. FIDE’s enthusiasm for shorter championships in the 1990s and 2000s prolonged the professional game’s split.”
I wrote recently about Jude Acers pontificating at length a quarter of a century ago about how quick games would revolutionize chess, putting money in every master’s pocket. The only thing that has put money in the pockets of master’s, and far too many who know too little about the game, is teaching chess to children, who then give up the game around puberty.
I was eating at one of my favorite spots, the Mediterranean Grill, while wearing a Chicago Open Tee-shirt from 2002. The owner, Sam Moussa, walked over and began a conversation about chess, telling me he had lived in Chicago for a couple of decades before moving to the South. “Chess is getting younger,” Sam said, before walking away. The people know. Back in the early seventies there were the same number of members of the USCF as now, except the vast majority of them were adults. Now the vast majority are children. The proliferation of children has driven most adults away from the game. There is a pronounced disparity in the ages of the competitors one can see at any large tournament. The players are either very young or very old. So-called “adult” tournaments consist of mostly children. Seniors comprise the second largest group, and they are leaving the chess world every day, because death happens. When Bobby beat Boris in 1972 the percentage of children playing in “adult” tournaments was miniscule, with only the very best children challenging the elders. Chess is now perceived, rightly, as a game for children.
The thing about being fortunate enough to grow older is one can see, upon reflection, the changes that have taken place in our world. It is common for anyone to think the way things are now is the way they have always been. Such is not the case, and especially in the world of chess. Most, if not all, of those coming into the chess world today have no clue as to how much the world of chess has changed. If all of those children who have come into the chess world had stayed I would be writing of what a huge success the move toward the United States Scholastic Chess Federation has been. Unfortunately, it has not. Statistics prove beyond any doubt that not enough children stay with chess to justify what has transpired in the world of chess. Yet, like the Republicans who still continue to advocate trickle-down economics when it has been proven in practice to work only for the very few at the top of the economic ladder, the chess F.I.P.s (Fools In Power) continue their “In for a penny, in for a pound,” moves on the chess board, even when faced with statistics proving it has not previously worked. They continue to advocate speeding up the time controls when the evidence shows it has only served to drive adult players, and members, out of the game. Even sadder is the fact that the F.I.P.s has done little for the second largest segment of members, Seniors. Granted, the latter group pales in comparison to the hefty numbers of spuds, but still Seniors do constitute the second largest group in number. What goes for Senior chess in this country is basically an insult to Seniors. Or, as one fellow Senior put it, “Senior chess in the USCF is a joke!”


One thought on “Booming Interest in Amateur Chess?

  1. orlando Cano says:

    Whre are the chess tournaments that we used to have,here in Georgia?.A good question to a good chess journalist?.Thanks

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