Why Professional Chess is Boring, and How it Will Continue to Be So

There’s an issue with great chessplay, and it’s that very few of us have the ability or time to truly understand it. There’s an issue with how chess is played as well: some of the greatest mental athletes in the world are competing across boards all year round, and no one, except the truly dedicated fans, really cares.

There’s already hot international competition. Pretty much any country with a soccer/football team has chess players in the mix, so the same retarded nationalistic fever that drives that sport should apply at least partially to chess. Just recently, a dynamite Indian player, Viswanithan Anand, snagged the world championship, ending a merciless Russian (and Russian satellite) domination, previously broken only by Bobby Fischer in the 1970s.

But no one really cares.

This is due in large part to the first sentence up there: good chess is tough to understand and is therefore hard to get really worked up about. Yet, chess and its metaphors are ingrained in our culture. For example, everyone knows what it means to be a “pawn,” or that “Checkmate!” is a good way to describe a particularly satisfying victory.

It’s too bad that professional chess games never progress completely to checkmate. They result either in utterly dull draws between players hoping to conserve their energy, or in resignations, since professional players are adept at determining when a position is losing or winning far in advance of most mere mortals.

So, the thrill of “Checkmate!” is gone for the average person.

This issue has been discussed on the internet many times. It’s taken up again by Mehrdad Pahlevanzadeh, a chess organizer from Iran. He thinks chess is boring and inaccessible to most people, even people who like chess, and he’s right:

“More than a hundred million people in the world can play chess, but we have only about a hundred thousand players who have international FIDE rating (Elo). This means that for every thousand chess players only one has a rating.

In world championship matches, when one player resigns, even some of the rated players cannot understand easily why the player resigned. Therefore our Championship tournament games are not understandable at least for 99.9% of chess players.

…If players continue their games until checkmate, all of the spectators can understand at least the last part of the games. Because they understand the games, they will enjoy them more. The point is that we currently tend to cut off the end of a nice story, and therefore games became incomprehensible and boring for most of the fans.”

The rest of this article is available at Chessbase.com*. Pahlevanzadeh proposes that chess professionals play out all their games to the bitter end, regardless of how elementary it may seem to them. The resulting games will be easier for sports news to cover, since there are actual highlights that can be understood, and there’s something for people to get thrilled about.

Unfortunately, his suggestion is not likely to take hold. To be honest, from my limited perspective, FICS (the FIFA of chess) and its members are too much a disorganized lot of cronies and crybabies for such a compromise to occur.

Chess isn’t going anywhere. You can take this expression two ways: it sure ain’t dying, but it sure ain’t selling t-shirts like Stone Cold Steve Austin. Or whoever King Hero Douche is these days.

*Note: Chessbase.com exists as a website to promote and distribute solid enough chess news, but also to promote Chessbase’s own professional-level chess software and tools. They are very good tools, perhaps the best in the industry, and the advertising is not overt or evil the same way most inline advertising is, but it is mixed in with the news in the form of news and reviews.

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3 thoughts on “Why Professional Chess is Boring, and How it Will Continue to Be So

  1. Chess is not boring, it is actually exciting if you understand chess tactics, chess strategy and endgames. The way to promote chess is to teach these people what these chess concepts are,so they will understand a grandmaster chess in progress. Based on experience, teach a kid well(not only the rules) on the many aspects of chess, 90 percent he/she will play for the rest of his/her life.

    Actual many of these aspects are easy to understand, such as put your rooks on open file to be effective. Anyway chess is great.

  2. With the latest big-name tournament ending entirely in drawn games, it’s hard to argue that the final round is at least a little bit of an anticlimax. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/sports/more-sports/chess/Anand-finishes-second-in-Tata-Chess-Nakamura-champion/articleshow/7396438.cms)

    Two major barriers to chess “excitement” if you will, remain a lack of public understanding of the high-level play, and the confusing over why there are so many unexciting draws. A third? More visceral competition is instantly available in the form of professional sports and action packed video games, but that’s just my take on it.

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