Why Life Is a Game of Chess (And Why It Helps to Know This)
By Darren Matthews @Darrenmmatthews
Life is a game of chess.
Right now, you’re thinking one of two thoughts. I know—or more likely, as you reflect on your knowledge of chess and try to form a comparison, is life really a game of chess?
A more significant observation comes when we look for games within our lives.
Competition riddles life. For example, schools are obsessed with league tables, and success is defined more by status than happiness, even though the later is far more important.
Games are everywhere.
Financial health is your credit score. Physical health is your BMI, and education success is judged on the grades you receive and so on.
Life is a game.
Even with this association, I find people end up in one of three positions.
Those who don’t see life as a game
Those who do, but lose
Those who win
Most people don’t see life as a game, let alone a chess game. These people rarely, if ever win. They see luck as a fluke.
It is a big problem.
When you see life as a game, things change.
Luck becomes seen as an opportunity. One you can prepare for and be ready to seize when it appears.
But I digress.
So, what does chess have to do with life? After all, they don’t strike an obvious relationship.
Chess offers insights few consider when seeking to understand life.
When we begin to see the comparison, our minds become open to new ways of living. Decisions take on a different dimension as the future begins to matter more than today.
Chess and life are the same.
Chess And Life
Is the game of life really comparable to chess?
To answer this, I want us to look closer at the game of chess. The classic board game requires many single piece moves. Most of them appear inconsequential.
But combine those moves with a strategy filled with tactical flair and a winner appears.
We believe our decisions embody the same single piece moves chess offers.
Most of our choices and actions appear unimportant to our futures so we act quickly. Our urge to move with haste is enforced by biases telling us we’re right, so we act. We fail to see the relationship between each decision and often it is only a matter of time before we end up losing.
Here lies the truth of this unusual comparison.
Author Allan Rufus said “Life is like a game of chess. To win you have to make a move. Knowing which move to make comes with insight and knowledge, and by learning the lessons that are accumulated along the way. We become each and every piece within the game called life.”
The most important sentence is this: “Knowing which move to make comes with insight and knowledge, and by learning the lessons that are accumulated along the way.”
Insight and knowledge are grasping the connections which exist unseen between every single decision you make and every consequence you create.
The same logic applies when playing chess.
Every single piece moves matters—and life is no different.
Our greatest challenge is that we miss this. Of course, this is compounded by a further problem.
Unfortunately there were problems with the transmission of the games from the Bay Area at lichess.com so the number of games not played is unknown. Here are a few that were able to be downloaded just to give you an idea of how they do not play Chess on the left coast:
After being taken to task by a reader from the Carolinas for not publishing short games from tournaments not in Carolina I went to the website of the 2022 New York Fall Invitational only after explaining to the Carolinian the decision had earlier been made to stop watching all so called “Norm” tournaments. After being lambasted for “picking on” the norm tournaments contested at the Charlotte Chess Center this writer reached out to several Chess friends, asking for their thoughts on “Norm” tournaments. The replies were along the lines of, “Why do you waste your time watching those things?” and, “I have absolutely no interest in those things.” The quotes are from two different people. It is ironic both consider a “Norm” tournament to be a “thing.” The reason I have not written about “Norm” tournaments is the decision was made to stop wasting my time watching tournaments in which there appears to be hanky panky. (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2021/09/11/the-charlotte-chess-center-mr-hankey-award/) In the interest of fairness I decided to follow the tournaments held in New York, and this will be the last time I ever waste my time watching Chess not being played.
Some of the “players”, and I use the word loosely, at the 2022 New York Fall Invitational are the same people who were written about in the posts concerning the plethora of short draws at the Charlotte Chess Center, such as IM Nikolai Andrianov, who should have his passport revoked and be sent packing to whatever hole out of which he crawled. Andrianov is no spring chicken, which may be why he has decided to rest on his limited laurels. The most disappointing player who has decided to stop playing Chess to make short draws is GM Titas Stremavicius (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2022/05/09/how-to-draw-a-chess-game-at-the-charlotte-chess-center/), who has obviously become a serial drawer, and who, like Andrianov, has become known for wearing “Maggie’s Drawers” when he “plays.” When Titus first began playing I checked him out, finding he played some of the same openings as I once played. Many of his games were replayed, finding him to be a “vicius” player. What happened Titus? When and why did you decide to embarrass yourself, and Caissa, and become a non-Chess player? Maybe if we Americans are lucky the passports of this serial drawer will be revoked.
Let me be as clear as a sunny day, all these short draws proliferating “norm” tournaments smack of collusion, and give the appearance of cheating. It smacks of selling “norms” to the highest bidder. The practice should have been stopped long ago, but since it was not it should be stopped NOW!
The low-life non-players and organizers accept no blame while saying they are “just following the rules.” This is done while they deposit digits into their bank accounts. It does not take a genius, or Grandmaster Chess player, to see what they do is harmful to Chess in the long run. These kind of people could care less about what happens to the Royal Game in the future as long as they can continue to stuff their bank accounts with inflated digits. Obviously, the rules should be changed. They should consider taking a page out of Rex Sinquefield’s book and institute their own rules, using the rules in play at the American Chess Mecca, the St. Louis Chess Campus as a guideline. The “go along to get along” Chess politicians at the United States Chess Federation need to grow some cojones and institute new rules.
Make no mistake, all the players listed above are cheaters. They have cheated Caissa and the spirit of the game. It is long past time for the USCF pooh-bahs to STEP UP and SPEAK UP. Someone, anyone, in power needs to do something, anything, about those who blaspheme against the Royal Game! If the current Fools In Power do not do something immediately their heads should roll so they can be replaced by someone, anyone who cares about CHESS! This “go along to get along” crap ain’t working. It is long past time for someone, anyone, in power to GROW A PAIR and STEP UP TO THE PLATE! If, that is, they are not too busy taking cash to stuff into their pockets…
“It’s been a month filled with thrilling championship action. Check out the latest news and updates from Chess.com and learn all about exciting new features, events, and Twitter memes that we’re particularly proud of.
It is a long article filled with much of which those at Chess.com are proud, including myriad videos one can watch. More on that later, but for now we will focus on the Fair Play segment, which contains these numbers:
I have never played online at Chess.com and know little about it other than what others, who do, or at least have, played there have reported. The numbers above tell a story, but what story depends on other numbers, like how many humans play each day, and/or the total numbers in the month of October. Because of a background in Baseball numbers are something about which I know something. When it comes to numbers everything is relative. For example, hitting .300 in Baseball is considered an accomplishment. In the low scoring period from 1963 to 1968, when those in power at Major League Baseball changed the rules by lowering the mound and decreasing the strike zone, Carl Yastrzemski of the Boston Red Sox led the American League with a batting average of only .301. Carl was the only player who stepped up to the plate enough time to qualify to hit .300 or above. The American League hitters batting average that year was only .230. Their is a reason 1968 was called “The year of the pitcher.” Flash back to “The year of the hitter”, 1930, and one finds the league Batting Average in the American league that year was .288. Keep in mind that after the expansion years of 1961 for the AL, and 1962 for the NL, there were ten teams in each league as opposed to only eight in 1930. In the latter year 41 hitters qualified for the batting title, with an astounding 29 hitters hitting .300 or above! That, folks, is 71% of the qualified batters. Simply amazin’, as Casey Stengel would have said. Al Simmons, of the Philadelphia Athletics, led the league with a .381 BA, two points higher than Lou Gehrig, of the New York Yankmees. Only three batters hit above .288, the average for the league in 1930, in the AL in 1968.
This can be found at Chess.com, and it is the only thing found to which the numbers above can be compared:
Play Chess Online on the #1 Site!
10,943,634 Games Today
260,504 Playing Now 11/13/22 12pm
Being not well informed about the workings at Chess.com caused me to reach out to some who play at the website. I did not understand the difference between “mute actions” and “accounts muted,” and I was not alone. “The latter means “Shut the Fork Up!” said one wag. Ditto for the “Fair Play closures” and “abuse closures.” And ditto for those to whom I reached out. “Chess.com is not too good with specifics,” said one. What we do know is that over one hundred thousand people have been “Shut up,” and 99,498 accounts have been closed for violating “Fair Play” rules and/or “abuse.” Which begs the question of what constitutes “abuse?” ‘Back in the day’ there was much “trash talkin'” at the House of Pain in the so-called “skittles room” prior to it being taken over by the parents of all the children flooding the House. My all-time favorite “trash talker” was none other than Dauntless Don Mullis, the player who forced me to play until the wee hours of the morning to win a game that lasted at least eight hours. You might out play the Dauntless one, but you could never out trash talk the legendary wonder!
When I think of Chess.com the words that come to mind are those spoken many decades ago by SM Brian McCarthy, (https://xpertchesslessons.wordpress.com/2021/04/24/brian-mccarthy-r-i-p/) who said, “It is nothing but a frivolous frivolity.” All was quiet for a few moments while it sank in before everyone erupted with laughter. The picture that follows succinctly illustrates what I mean:
Maybe much younger people like the above cartoon but it is simply silly and denigrates the Royal Game. Unfortunately, Chess.com is replete with frivolous frivolities like the above. For example, here are two videos contained in the aforementioned article that perfectly illustrate the silly nature of Chess.com:
Pleas note the ever present grin found on the face of Danny Rensch, one of the movers and shakers at Chess.com. It seems Mr. Rensch always has a smile on his face, and maybe you would too if you had his revenue stream…
Maybe silly crap like this has a place on a Chess website…maybe…but I am more like Brian McCarthy, who was famous for saying, “Just give me the MEAT!” Substitute “moves” for “meat” which is exactly what Brian did when someone criticized him for using a book sans cover. “It don’t need no cover as long as it has got the MOVES,” he said, followed by the above “MEAT!” quote. How can any self-respecting Chess player take Chess.com seriously?
Because it has become so difficult to win a Chess game in Grandmaster tournaments these days a loss in the first round can be devastating. In the first round of the recently completed 2022 Fall Chess Classic B, held at the St. Louis Chess Campus, GM Ioan-Cristian Chirila
had the black pieces against GM Tigran K. Harutyunyan.
As it turned out the game was one of, if not the most interesting game of the event.
There had already been a few twists and turns in the game at this point, but this is where the fun really begins. We will move along to a later position:
The 51st move made by White was not good. Prior to the move Black was much better but now he is winning. The hardest game to win is a won game. What move would you make?
As Robert Zimmerman sang, things have changed. I’ll say! The black advantage has dissipated and it is now an even game, according to the Stockfish program at Lichess.com. The move that should be made looks rather obvious, but then we are not at the board with the clock ticking…
I will leave the remainder of the game for your amusement…
[Event “St Louis Fall B 2022”] [Site “Saint Louis USA”] [Date “2022.11.02”] [Round “1.1”] [White “Harutyunyan, Tigran K.”] [Black “Chirila, Ioan-Cristian”] [WhiteElo “2504”] [BlackElo “2536”] [ECO “A15”] [Opening “English opening”]
It is always difficult to lose a Chess game, especially when that game is the first game of a tournament. When one has a winning advantage, and blows it, how it affects a player is exacerbated. To the male psyche it can be devastating. After losing a won game one is often told to “Put it out of your mind.” That is something easier said than done. It is also difficult to sleep the night after a loss, which will have a deleterious effect on play later in the tournament. Only the strong survive, and only the exceptionally strong comeback for such a devastating loss. GM Chirila is one of those players because he returned from the dead to tie for third place in the event while having the third highest performance rating to show for it. He sort of stabilized himself with a draw with the white pieces in round two, but let go of the rope again against with the black pieces versus young Christopher Yoo in round three. With only one half point after the first three rounds some, if not most, players would go into the tank and be happy to, hopefully, make a few draws while playing out the string. Christian Chirila is not one of those players. He defeated the eventual winner of the tournament, Aleksandr Linderman,
with the black pieces in the final round. Lindy ran away with the tournament by scoring 6 1/2 points to finish one point in front of the second place finisher, GM Raunak Sadhwani, from India. I cannot count the number of times a player who had an insurmountable lead lost in the last round. It happens so frequently that it would seem to be better if the player who has already clinched first place would simply refuse to play the meaningless last round game. Nevertheless, my hat is off to both of these players, especially Chirila, for showing his measure as a player and as a man. Even with the last round loss, the winner, Lucky Lindy, over performed his rating by 167. The number two player was Christian Chirila, who finished with a performance rating of 2596, which is 60 points more than his rating.
The other game being presented was played in the first round and the opening was one of my favorite openings, “The truth as it was known in those long ago days.” Christopher, I love Yoo, Man!
[Event “St Louis Fall B 2022”] [Site “Saint Louis USA”] [Date “2022.11.02”] [Round “1.2”] [White “Yoo, Christopher Woojin”] [Black “Jacobson, Brandon”] [WhiteElo “2573”] [BlackElo “2551”] [ECO “C24”] [Opening “Bishop’s opening”]
One of the reasons computer Chess programs are far superior to human players is they have no preconceived ideas about how the game should be played. If a move grades out as best the machine makes the move no matter what rule or principle it violates, or how ugly it appears. I believe it was IM John Watson
in his magnificent, award winning book, Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy, who wrote, “I spent the first ten years learning the rules of Chess, and the next ten years learning when to violate the rules.”
In the above position, taken from the recent game between GMs Alexander Lenderman
and GM Leinier Dominguez
from the eight round of the 2022 US Chess Championship the latter Grandmaster played what GM Yasser Seirwan would call a “howler.”
Bishop takes pawn on g3 was a losing move. What could possibly explain why one of the top players in the world played a losing move? The only logical explanation is that he expected his opponent to capture the doomed Bishop with the h-pawn. Lenderman took little time before capturing with the h-pawn. Both GMs were complacent. The game ended in a draw.
Let us have a look at the position as seen in the minds of the two Grandmasters, if they even gave much thought to the possibility of taking with the King:
No doubt about it, that’s UGLY!
Mother once said she thought the actor Richard Boone was “So ugly he’s pretty.” That caused me to cogitate for awhile…
To the rational and logical mind of a Chess player it is anathema to even consider such an ugly move that violates all the rules and principles learned over a lifetime of playing Chess. Nevertheless there are times when a Chess player simply MUST consider a move, no matter how ugly it seems to the logical and rational mind of a human player. Sometimes a player has to consider a move no matter how ugly it appears because there are times when the pretty ugly move becomes so ugly it’s pretty.
Lenderman 2535 vs Dominguez 2747 Round 8 2022 US Chess Championship
The intention was to write a post today concerning a few of the games, and positions of the recent US Chess Championships, to follow the previous post, but a couple of emails from regular readers recently changed my mind. One reader wanted to know if I could recommend one article that would bring him up to speed with the events of the Magnus Carlsen caused affair. This caused me to smile. One article. Ha! I have read so much on the subject it has made my eyes bleed, and this guy wants one article that is a be all and end all article…
The other reader asked a question that is on every mind of everyone involved with Chess. “How will this affect the future of Chess?”
Is that a loaded question, or what? I am no soothsayer. Nevertheless, how can all the negative publicity do anything but harm the Royal Game? Then again, the recent cheating scandals in Major League Baseball by the Houston Astros, now called by many the “Cheating ‘stros,” has not ended MLB, although the people who watch the game has dwindled to alarmingly low numbers, but then, MLB has been losing interest for other reasons ever since the Ragin’ Roid’ scandal and the Bud Selig caused premature end of the 1994 season. Then there is the New England Patriots serial cheating which has not appeared to diminish the number of fans. The title of one article tells the story: A timeline of Patriots scandals: Spygate, Deflategate and other controversial incidents under Bill Belichick (https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nfl/news/patriots-spygate-deflategate-bill-belichick-timeline/ovkdjh8ny5qb1fnns9grat5mk). Just type in “Patriots” and “Cheating” into any search engine and you will be inundated with a plethora of maimball cheating articles.
As luck would have it I surfed over to the excellent website of Daiim Shabazz,
The Chess Drum,
recently, something I had put off because of all the reading done on the Magnus Carlsen affair in an attempt to understand why the current World Chess Champion would do the things he has done recently.
There, at The Chess Drum, I found one of the best articles read recently. I was taken aback by the depth and breadth of the article. Although much of it was known I read every word because there was so much that was new to me. If I were a member of the Chess Journalists of America I would nominate the article for an award because it is that good. It is a remarkable piece of Chess journalism. I left a comment for Daiim and only just revisited the article in preparing to write these words. The following, which had obviously just been posted, was found:
Daaim Shabazz says: October 25, 2022 at 12:47 pm
What impact would Carlsen’s signing the scoresheets have on whether he believed that Niemann had cheated during their game? Signing the scoresheet in FIDE games is an agreement that the result was fair. Refusing to sign could be considered a protest.
I once saw a cheating case (touch move violation) at an Olympiad. The accused (a GM) claimed that he had adjusted his king (despite holding it and hovering over a square). The move would’ve allowed the queening of a pawn and resulted in a big team upset. There were bystanders who saw the violation. The arbiter was not present but did not allow any witness statements. After a back-and-forth debate, he believed the GM and allowed the game to continue. The GM moved another piece. The accuser (an FM) was distraught and let his clock run out in protest and signed the sheets.
When the appeal was filed, it was determined that while it appeared the GM had violated the rules, the accuser had signed the scoresheets and had thus agreed with the result. Based on this, the committee rejected the appeal.
I urge everyone reading this to visit the website and read it for yourself. In addition, I urge anyone involved with the Chess Journalists of America to give strong consideration to giving some kind of award to the writer. To the gentleman wanting that “one article” this, sir, is that article. I am still amazed at how much time and effort was put into the article. It is more than an overview. It is more like the kind of article that answers questions you did not ask, but after reading, wondered why you had not asked those questions. It is a magnificent article at which I stand in awe. To this writer it is a masterpiece, like an artwork.
“Andrea Carte: Born in Italy, IT engineer, he’s written some GO software, published several papers about reconstructing GO games from videos by means of AI tecniques and has joined two scientific conferences (Liberec 2015 and Pisa 2018) during the corresponding European Go Congresses. Like Ingo Althoefer – who arranged such conferences – he’s above all a chess fan since the Spassky-Fischer match and has even attended many World Championships since then. He considers himself a good amateur, despite not even reaching the 2000 barrier (that will forever remain his forbidden dream).”
Since there are only three degrees of separation, especially among we lovers of games, I urge anyone reading this to contact the writer in order to give him a ‘heads-up’ about this post. And to Mr. Carta, I too, play Go, but not very well. Nevertheless, I enjoy reading about the great game of Go and replaying games online, and have been known to actually play a few games over the years. I sincerely hope you manage to cross the 2000 barrier because although it has been said the demarcation line for becoming a respected Chess player is 1600, which is class “B”, any player who has ever seen that crooked number after his name knows it bestows credibility lacking when a rating begins with a ‘one’.
The final two paragraphs of the stellar article follow:
“In the end we have found that “statistics at first sight”, all of them, look like strong evidence of Hans Niemann cheating, and cheating a lot. But at second sight, all the statistics show instead a picture typical of a young player rising fast, with no evidence of cheating whatsoever. Ken Regan was right.
Does this mean that Hans Niemann never cheated on the board? It’s still difficult to say. Opinions of strong players cannot be discounted, nor cannot be the ones of expert commentators like Alejandro Ramirez (his opinion can be read at https://en.chessbase.com/post/alejandro-ramirez-it-does-seem-very-likely-that-hans-cheated-over-the-board, with a link to a podcast in which the matter is fully discussed). But it’s extremely unlikely that statistics alone will ever provide evidence on the matter, and unless some clever Philo Vance will ever be able to deduce his method and trap him “on the spot”, the mystery will never be solved. Chess, already diminished because of the overwhelming engines’ dominance, is on the verge of completely losing its charisma. Hysteria is spreading fast: already people are not permitted to watch important tournaments in person, and live broadcast is quickly disappearing. Will the “old times” ever come back?” https://en.chessbase.com/post/the-hans-niemann-case-numbers-what-they-reveal-and-what-they-do-not-reveal
People still play the antiquated game, and there are still tournaments, but reading about them makes one sad. We here in America live in a boom and bust society. I cannot speak for the rest of the world, but here it is obvious the ship named the Royal Game has taken a torpedo and is in damage control mode. I have no idea how much damage has been done or what kind of deleterious effect it will have upon Chess, but I do know each and every Chess player needs to grab a pail and start dipping to keep the ship of Chess afloat. Chess is akin to a rudderless ship because FIDE, the World Chess organization, has done absolutely nothing to mitigate the damage. This could be because FIDE is controlled by the Russians. The head of FIDE does not make any decision without the approval of Mad Vlad, and he has other, much more important things on his mind at the moment. The President of FIDE, Arkady Dvorkovich,
known as “The Dvork”, is far too busy covering his ass while trying to stay alive to even consider doing something, anything, to mitigate the onslaught of negative publicity that has inundated the Royal Game over the last month or so. The dude has got to be cringing in fear of doing anything that might displease Mad Vlad,
or else he, like so many other nefarious Russians in Putin’s orbit, might take a header out of a window in a high rise building.
“…the mystery will never be solved.” And there’s the rub. Hans Niemann
can never, ever, prove he did not cheat, which means his reputation has been drastically damaged by the allegations made by the nattering nabobs. His reputation has been forever tarnished. With that in mind, I have something to say to young Mr. Niemann, and would appreciate it if a reader will pass this along to Hans, or someone who knows him.
“Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was.” – Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone With The Wind.
The Mechanic’s Institute Newsletter appeared this morning after moving from a weekly to a monthly newsletter. Regular readers know I have been an inveterate reader for many decades. FM Paul Whitehead has published an outstanding editorial in the #1030 issue of October 8, 2022. After reading this writer had trouble with what to print and what to leave out. After deliberation the decision was made to publish the entire editorial as is, with media added by yours truly:
Hans Niemann: Chess at the Top
By FM Paul Whitehead
“Money Changes Everything” – The Brains
By now we are all familiar with the scandal engulfing the chess world, boiled down to this: lame-duck World Champion Magnus Carlsen loses a game in the Sinquefield Cup to 19- year-old American up-start GM Hans Niemann. He then withdraws from the tournament, at the same time making a vague insinuation that Niemann has cheated. A couple of weeks later in the online Julius Baer Generation Cup, Carlsen loses yet another game to Hans, resigning before playing his 2 nd move. Shortly afterwards he makes a statement on social media, asserting that Hans had cheated during their encounter at the Sinqufield Cup – and offers not a single shred of evidence. I want to offer my own opinion, based on long experience in the chess world plus my own interactions with Hans when he was an up-and-coming player at the Mechanics’ Institute. It is not an easy path to the top of the chess world. It takes great fighting spirit and single- minded determination. Magnus Carlsen, like every other World Champion before him, has demonstrated those qualities. Other top players I have observed, like GM Walter Browne (one of Hans’ early coaches), manifest that desire to win in an almost visceral and physical way.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the will to win (and not to lose!) can cloud a chess players moral compass. Ashamedly, I remember engaging in fisticuffs with my own brother over a disputed game. With that said, I’m curious what the reader might think of the following example. Captured on video, Carlsen attempts to take a move back against GM Alexandra Kosteniuk in the 2009 World Blitz Championship, and then leaves the table without a word or a handshake: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WeyXKTVYenA&t=161s
If this was not an attempted cheat, then I don’t know what is. Perhaps even more damning is the following video, Carlsen’s own live-stream of the Lichess Titled Arena in December 2021. The World Champion clearly takes the advice of GM David Howell to trap GM Daniel Naroditsky’s queen. I understand the tournament had a 1st place of $500. The critical moment is at the 1:44:00 mark: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRdrf1Ny3x8
I am not trying to throw just Magnus Carlsen under the bus here. Both of these videos show very typical displays of fighting spirit. Sadly, they also display not particularly rare examples of un-sportsmanlike behavior. For the World Champion to accuse Niemann of what he himself is clearly guilty of is, in my opinion, just flat out wrong. If Niemann has cheated, then so has Carlsen. And many, many others. Thirty years ago (and more) it was a common sight to see chess masters and grandmasters walking the hallways together, whispering in each other’s ears. I don’t believe the majority of players were outright cheating perse, but innocent questions or statements such as: “What do you think of my position?” or “Maybe it’s time to go home!” accompanied by frowns, raised eyebrows, coughing, laughing, et cetera, were quite common. Of course, this is different information than one can get nowadays. After all, a grandmaster is only human, and their suggestions and advice will only take you so far. But Stockfish is a God. Nowadays the top players are electronically frisked, and their trips to the bathroom are monitored – all under the smoky pall of large prize funds, large appearance fees, and generous corporate sponsorship. While the top players and streamers, and the private interests that sponsor them (purporting to speak for the regular player), wring their hands worrying over the “integrity of the game” and the “existential threat” posed by cheaters, they are living in a chess world unimaginable only 30-40 years ago. Back then, top players might have lived out of their cars or crashed on a friend’s couch, all the while waiting for a few paltry bucks from their chess federation or a miserable cash prize to pay their expenses. Chess lacked the glitz that corporate sponsorship and lots of money can buy: the glamorous world of The Queen’s Gambit,
trash-talking streamers angling for a date with one of the Botez sisters,
or better yet: the chance to be rich and/or the subject of world-wide attention. Chess at the top looks, sounds, and tastes very different now than it did not so long ago. The players are younger, have nice haircuts, and pay respect (if not outright homage) to their master, World Champion Magnus Carlsen. It looks quite cozy from the outside: for almost ten years now, the same 15–20 players have competed against each other over and over again in countless tournaments, over the board and online. Rarely are outsiders permitted into this precious circle, which helps to keep their ratings inflated just enough to keep the invites and appearance fees coming and the sponsorships rolling in. But cracks are starting to appear. Almost all of the top players lost rating points at the recent Olympiad in Chennai, where they had to compete with lower rated players. A younger generation is muscling in, in the shape of players like Hans Niemann, India’s Dommaraju Gukesh, and Nodirbek Abdusattorov from Uzbekistan. The latter became the World Rapid Champion earlier this year, defeating not only Carlsen, but Carlsen’s two most recent World Champion challengers, Fabiano Caruana and Ian Nepomniachtchi. The young may also seem to lack the “proper respect,” which leads us back to what I see as the whole crux of this sorry Carlsen/Niemann affair. Right now, with the lack of any evidence that Niemann cheated in that over-the-board game against Carlsen, I think the only conclusion we can reach is the one staring us all in the face: Hans Niemann beat Magnus Carlsen fair and square at the Sinquefield Cup. I believe Hans has gotten under Magnus’ skin big-time, and, as is well documented here and elsewhere, Magnus hates losing. And to what extent, we are just now finding out. With Carlsen also abdicating the World Championship, I am reminded somewhat of an angry child that destroys his own sandcastle when told that it’s time to leave the beach. Hans Niemann played a lot at the Mechanics’ Institute as a youngster (11-12 years old in 2013 and 2014), and his progress was meteoric. As I outlined in our last newsletter, his rating jumping from 1200 to 2200 in just under two years. I myself played Hans a bunch of times, and his father recently sent me a video of Hans and I battling it out in a blitz game at the Mechanics’ Institute. I am totally winning for ages and ages, and his only hope is that I will lose on time. Hans hangs in there though, crying “Flag, flag, flag!” over and over. Both of us are enjoying the contest immensely… and I lose on time before I can mate him. His joy at winning is a sight to see. Not everyone appreciated Han’s brash and cheeky demeanor. It was either IM John Donaldson
or I who (affectionately) started calling him “Niemann the Demon,” but there were (and are still) players at the club who, perhaps, have forgotten what it was like to have been young once. When I see Hans in those post-game interviews at the Sinquefield Cup, I feel I am watching exactly the same person that I knew back then: a person with a great love for chess, supremely confident in his abilities, and with respect for no one. A stone-cold chess killer. Hans acts in a rough and tumble manner that surprises us nowadays, and harkens back to earlier times – perhaps strongly influenced by older coaches like GMs Walter Browne,
and IM John Grefe.
These are no-nonsense and worldly fellows, and Hans’ development was tempered in steel. I think the time has passed, if it ever really existed, when chess could lay claim to completely fair-play. Ruy Lopez de Segura (c.1530 – c.1580) a founding father of modern chess and a Catholic priest, advised his students to “place the board such that the light shines in your opponent’s eyes.” Behind the brouhaha surrounding Carlsen and Niemann, there are other factors and interests playing out. As we follow chess celebrities, minor and major (because that is what they are now) we should also follow the money. Is it a coincidence that Niemann was banned anew from chess.com whilst the Play Magnus Group was acquired by that selfsame chess.com? I find it fascinating to see who is lining up to defend Carlsen’s accusations, and why. There will always be attempts to cheat at over-the-board chess – some have been caught, others not. With the money pouring in, attempts to cheat will not stop, ever. Chess has entered the world of all other sports and games where these problems exist, whether it’s baseball or poker. The online world thrived like nobody’s business during the pandemic: perhaps the real “existential threat” to wealthy streamers and online platforms is not cheaters – it’s the return to over-the-board play. The chess world at the top has waited a long time for this moment – they’ve made it. They have world-wide attention, and they are rolling in the dough. In a sense they have gotten what they wished for, yet in another sense they are paying the price for those wishes coming true. But back here, for the rest of us in the clubs, in our homes and schools, I believe chess will thrive and continue to be enjoyed for the skillful, interesting, and fascinating game that it is – untainted by money and enjoyed for its own sake. The same way Hans and I enjoyed playing together, not so very long ago. (https://www.milibrary.org/sites/default/files/1030.pdf)
The Guardian view on chess cheating claims: innocent until proven guilty
The world champion, Magnus Carlsen, has cast doubt on the success of a younger grandmaster, Hans Niemann. Where’s the evidence?
Sun 2 Oct 2022 13.25 EDT
Chess generally hits the headlines only for reasons external to the game itself: Bobby Fischer’s eccentricity; Viktor Korchnoi’s
allegations that the Soviet Union was using hypnotism to undermine him in his 1978 world title match with Anatoly Karpov;
the Toiletgate furore that marred the 2006 world championship.
Now, the reigning world champion Magnus Carlsen’s airing of suspicions over the play of the 19-year-old US grandmaster Hans Niemann has put chess into the spotlight again.
Carlsen has been world champion since 2013. Niemann is a tyro who has made astonishingly rapid progress recently. Carlsen has publicly questioned that trajectory, saying on Twitter last week that “his over the board progress has been unusual”. These days, most elite players become grandmasters in their early teens – Carlsen was 13. Niemann, a charismatic character who says his life has been devoted to proving critics who said he wasn’t good enough wrong, was a late-developing 17, and his rise to super-GM level has been meteoric.
The controversy erupted when Niemann beat Carlsen last month in the Sinquefield Cup. Niemann said he had somehow guessed what opening Carlsen would play. It was Carlsen’s first defeat in 53 classical (long-form) games, and he reacted by withdrawing from the tournament, making gnomic references to something being not quite right. “If I speak I am in big trouble,” he tweeted. Some of his supporters filled in the blanks, with claims that Niemann had computer help. Elon Musk
unhelpfully suggested that he was using unusual methods; Niemann countered by offering to strip naked.
Carlsen and Niemann met again last month in an online game, and the world champion sensationally resigned after making just one move. Carlsen said he was unwilling to “play against people that have cheated repeatedly in the past”, and that he believed the younger man had cheated “more than he has admitted”. Niemann has acknowledged cheating online as a teenager, but insists he has never done so in an over-the-board game and angrily denies the new claims. “Once a cheat, always a cheat,” chorus his detractors, but Niemann should surely not be condemned for youthful misdemeanours in games where little was at stake. There is no evidence that he cheated when he beat Carlsen.
The world champion is right to say that cheating poses an existential challenge to chess – there have been many examples at less exalted levels of the sport. But he is wrong to muddy the waters around Niemann without substantive evidence. Britain’s former world title contender Nigel Short says that the young American is at risk of suffering “death by innuendo”. (https://www.inkl.com/news/the-guardian-view-on-chess-cheating-claims-innocent-until-proven-guilty) Experts reckon Carlsen played unusually poorly in his defeat to Niemann. Maybe it was just a bad day at the office. Or perhaps it was the result of paranoia: once a player believes their opponent is cheating, that inevitably affects their own play. Carlsen needs to produce concrete evidence – ideally as part of the inquiry announced on Thursday by the International Chess Federation – or let Niemann get on with his career. Only by playing over a long period will the latter’s true playing strength emerge – while any repeated cheating in the rarefied conditions of elite tournaments would soon be exposed. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/oct/02/the-guardian-view-on-chess-cheating-claims-innocent-until-proven-guilty