What is Chess?

The Legendary Georgia Ironman once remarked, “Chess is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” With my eye swollen shut I had time to reflect upon his statement while contemplating the question, “What is chess?”

The new people who have entered the chess world because of the scholastic craze do not seem to understand this simple fact. Their ignorance is masked by new slogans and “vision statements.” A recent example can be found on the forum of the North Carolina Chess Association. It is election time in the Great State of NC and Sara Walsh has thrown her hat into the ring, running for the post of VP. Unlike my home state of Georgia, the NCCA has a forum where mud can be slung, and from reading the comments on said forum, it is being fast and furiously flung. In her post of Thu Sep 25, 2014 10:14 pm Sara wrote, “While working on a project and looking for content, I realized that there was no About Us page on the NCCA website. So my challenge to you is to come up with a portion of an About Us page. A succinct overview of what defines the NCCA and its role in NC Chess. Think about what’s on the website, what’s in the Bylaws/Charter. One might include a Mission Statement, Vision, Objectives, a short history, possibly some highlights, or anything else you think belongs on an About Us page. Any thoughts?”
Sara

There it is again, the “vision” thing. What is it with women and a “Vision statement?” Does chess need a “vision statement” to answer the question of “What is chess?” Women evidently think it does.

The USCF has put all its eggs in the one basket of scholastic chess. Chess has become a game for children. Chess has become a “learning tool.” For example, the new Executive Director of the USCF, Jean Hoffman, writes in the August 2014 issue of Chess Life that one of the USCF goals is to, “Educate children, parents, teachers and school administrators on the benefits of chess as a part of a school curriculum and as an extra-curricular activity.” Thus far this new century has been devoted to transforming the Royal game into a frilly fun game for children in hopes it will give them a warm fuzzy feeling. Chess is anything but warm and fuzzy. The children learn chess at a young age. As they start to mature they realize what chess is in actuality and stop playing. Children are much smarter than some adults give them credit for, and are astute enough to know when adults are selling them a bill of goods.

Chess is a difficult game to learn and even more difficult to play. The game of Go, or Wei Chi in other parts of the world, has only a few rules and is much simpler to learn, and it does all the things chess people have sold to educators. The number of people on the planet who have taken to the game this century, most of whom are children, has tripled, and is increasing exponentially. Chess is a game of the past, while Go is the game of the future.

Chess is a war game. War does not instill the “warm fuzzys.” The mentally deranged yankee general, William Tecumseh Sherman, is best known for uttering, “War is hell.” Chess is hell. I have heard chess called many things, including, “Mental torture.” I have seen grown men brought to their knees by a game of chess. I have seen grown men cry after losing a game of chess. GM Vassily Ivanchuk once beat his head against a wall so hard and so long after losing a chess game that it left blood on the wall and dripping from his face. Chess is a psychic knife fight. Chess is pure and simple combat, which takes place in the mind.

Over the years I have read chess called many things by the greats of the game, and other notables. Here are some examples:

Chess is war over the board. The object is to crush the opponents mind. – Bobby Fischer

Chess is ruthless: you’ve got to be prepared to kill people. – Nigel Short

Chess is, above all, a fight. – Emanuel Lasker

By some ardent enthusiasts Chess has been elevated into a science or an art. It is neither; but its principal characteristic seems to be – what human nature mostly delights in – a fight. – Emanuel Lasker

A chess game, after all, is a fight in which all possible factors must be made use of, and in which a knowledge of the opponent’s good and bad qualities is of the greatest importance. – Emanuel Lasker

Chess is a test of wills. – Paul Keres

Chess is a contest between two men which lends itself particularly to the conflicts surrounding aggression. – Rueben Fine

Chess is a sport. A violent sport. – Marcel Duchamp

Chess is mental torture. – Garry Kasparov

In the Soviets’ view, chess was not merely an art or a science or even a sport; it was what it had been invented to simulate: war. – Pal Benko

There is no remorse like a remorse of chess. It is a curse upon man. There is no happiness in chess. – H.G. Wells

Chess has been sold to the parents of young children as something it is not, a wonderful game where everyone goes home a winner. Life is not like that, something which the children learn the hard way. As the author Gore Vidal so eloquently put it, “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.” Many aspire to be the best, but there can be only one World Chess Champion.

The following is taken from an episode, “Three Coaches And A Bobby” (season 3, episode 12), of the cartoon show, “King of the Hill.”

The problem with Soccer

I dedicate this version to my friend for over four decades, the Legendary Georgia Ironman, a BIG fan of…

REO Speedwagon Only The Strong Survive

I dedicate this version to myself because it was popular at the time I lost my first love and helped me out of the funk:

Jerry Butler Only the Strong Survive

And here is a live performance many years later:

Jerry Butler – Only The Strong Survive

I dedicate this cover to my crazy cousin Linda who had three passions in life, with Elvis being one, and include it because although many have been called the “King” of popular music, there can be only one King:

Elvis Presley – Only The Strong Survive ( Alt.Take,X Rated )

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Advancing to the Rear

While analyzing with some youngsters at the Atlanta Chess Center the Legendary Georgia Ironman was heard to say, “I never retreat. I only advance to the rear.”
On this date in 1863 the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia began its retreat from Gettysburg. The logistics of moving such a large force of men and material is truly staggering. General Robert E. Lee had lost the battle, but the war still raged. To live to fight another day required “advancing to the rear,” to the safety provided in the South. Many books have been written about the retreat and I highly recommend this one: Retreat from Gettysburg: “Lee, Logistics, and the Pennsylvania Campaign”, by Kent Masterson Brown (http://uncpress.unc.edu/browse/book_detail?title_id=706).
General Lee’s successful retreat was one of the most incredible maneuvers in the history of warfare and has been studied at the Army War College, and by military personnel all over the world. In his book, “Kent Masterson Brown reveals that even though the battle of Gettysburg was a defeat for the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee’s successful retreat maintained the balance of power in the eastern theater and left his army with enough forage, stores, and fresh meat to ensure its continued existence as an effective force.”
General George Meade had checkmate on the move, but, like Victor Korchnoi against Anatoly Karpov in a match for the World Championship, failed to deliver the blow. “The Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade, was unable to maneuver quickly enough to launch a significant attack on the Confederates, who crossed the river on the night of July 13–14.”
“Confederate supplies and thousands of wounded men proceeded over South Mountain through Cashtown in a wagon train that extended for 15–20 miles, enduring harsh weather, treacherous roads, and enemy cavalry raids. The bulk of Lee’s infantry departed through Fairfield and through the Monterey Pass toward Hagerstown, Maryland. Reaching the Potomac, they found that rising waters and destroyed pontoon bridges prevented their immediate crossing. Erecting substantial defensive works, they awaited the arrival of the Union army, which had been pursuing over longer roads more to the south of Lee’s route. Before Meade could perform adequate reconnaissance and attack the Confederate fortifications, Lee’s army escaped across fords and a hastily rebuilt bridge.”
“The retreat from Gettysburg ended the Gettysburg Campaign, Robert E. Lee’s final strategic offensive in the Civil War. Afterwards, all combat operations of the Army of Northern Virginia were in reaction to Union initiatives. The Confederates suffered over 5,000 casualties during the retreat, including more than 1,000 captured at Monterey Pass, 1,000 stragglers captured from the wagon train by Gregg’s division, 500 at Cunningham’s Crossroads, 1,000 captured at Falling Waters, and 460 cavalrymen and 300 infantry and artillery killed, wounded, and missing during the ten days of skirmishes and battles. There were over 1,000 Union casualties—primarily cavalrymen—including losses of 263 from Kilpatrick’s division at Hagerstown and 120 from Buford’s division at Williamsport. For the entire campaign, Confederate casualties were approximately 27,000, Union 30,100.
Meade was hampered during the retreat and pursuit not only by his alleged timidity and his willingness to defer to the cautious judgment of his subordinate commanders, but because his army was exhausted. The advance to Gettysburg was swift and tiring, followed by the largest battle of the war. The pursuit of Lee was physically demanding, through inclement weather and over difficult roads much longer than his opponent’s. Enlistments expired, causing depletion of his ranks, as did the New York Draft Riots, which occupied thousands of men that could have reinforced the Army of the Potomac.
Meade was severely criticized for allowing Lee to escape, just as Maj. Gen. George B. McClellan had done after the Battle of Antietam. Under pressure from Lincoln, he launched two campaigns in the fall of 1863—Bristoe and Mine Run—that attempted to defeat Lee. Both were failures. He also suffered humiliation at the hands of his political enemies in front of the Joint Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War, questioning his actions at Gettysburg and his failure to defeat Lee during the retreat to the Potomac.”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Retreat_from_Gettysburg

Like many a chess player General Mead had reached a won position, but failed to convert. This prolonged the War For Southern Independence and caused more death and destruction for the South. If the war had ended with Gettysburg, General William Tecumseh Sherman would never have perpetuated war crimes against Southern citizens.(“War Crimes Against Southern Civilians” by Walter Cisco) He would instead have been free earlier to head west and start performing genocide against the Native Americans. The Northern force won the battle in spite of, not because of General Mead, who was not one of the better Generals of the War For Southern Independence. Sherman is famous for saying about U.S. Grant, “I stood by him when he was drunk and he stood by me when I was crazy.” The devil Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, who was mentally ill (her oldest son, Robert Todd Lincoln, took legal action to have her declared insane and a court placed her in a private sanatorium), said this about U.S. Grant, “He is a butcher and is not fit to be at the head of an army. Yes, he generally manages to claim a victory, but such a victory! He loses two men to the enemy’s one. He has no management, no regard for life.” Conversation with Abraham Lincoln regarding General Ulysses S. Grant. SOURCE: Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House by Elizabeth Keckley (New York, Penguin Books, 2005), p. 59.
Benson Bobrick, in his masterful book, “Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas,” posits the best General in the yankee army was from the Great State of Virginia. His sisters considered him a traitor and turned his picture to the wall and never spoke to him again. The yankees never trusted him and wrote deprecatingly concerning his accomplishments and disparagingly of him in general. It is only now that more objective historians are giving the man deserved recognition.