Monday, July 16, 2012

Chess Is Like... Tennis?

'[Murray] and Federer are in love with the art of the rally. They adore long, subtle, clever points, prolonged discussion, the searching out of weaknesses and then the kill-shot or the shot that draws the error. Sometimes I felt as if my notes should not "forehand down line" but "bishop takes knight".'

Simon Barnes, The Times, 09/07/2012

Simon Barnes is my favourite sports writer. He writes about the human side of sport and isn't afraid to reference anything, from Keats to Duran Duran, or Star Trek to the Somme. You know, as long as it's relevant. He's who I aspire to in my nonsense on these pages and others; you won't find much raw chess analysis in my material, that's for sure. I leave that to the professionals.

A few years ago, he wrote a wonderful piece detailing exactly why he considered chess not to be a sport. It was wonderful precisely because it was also an impassioned defence of the game, contrary to many of the thoughtless and derogatory detractors of the argument that are perpetually receiving copy. For now, the article appears to be behind The Times' paywall, but I'll find an archive print copy and properly address it soon.

A recent return to the issue would suggest that chess is indeed a sport. After all, how many ridiculous and magnificent time scrambles have occurred at the top level? Please don't tell me that this crescendo from Karpov - Kasparov '87 doesn't qualify.

Returning to the opening quote, I've spent all week trying to work out if the analogy makes sense. It sounds almost Orwellian. Or Rowsonian, depending on your background. And, if he means what I think he means, I don't think he goes far enough. Though I suppose it's sufficient for a non-chess playing audience. 

It must have something to do with what he says later on:

'Small margins, small margins, but that's the way it is when you play sport at this dizzying level of brilliance.'

I think he's arguing that it's unimportant for us to understand exactly why somebody has won, just as long as we can follow the ebb and flow. It's more akin to an emotional involvement, something that the Wimbledon final undoubtedly offered.

Someone who isn't a strong chessplayer will lack the feel for when bishop takes knight is the correct decision. Just like how someone who isn't a proficient tennis player won't know when a forehand down the line is the value shot. But everyone can see the eventual result and respond to it. It's the result that will live long in the memory, not the detail.

Chess Is Like... Index


Jonathan B said...

Quality clip.

Also agree re: Simon Barnes. Not that I've read him much recently, more's the pity.

For what it's worth, I reckon that with the 'bishop takes knight' line he probably didn't intend anything more than a high class "it's a game of chess out there"

ejh said...

Thing is, anybody can enjoy a exciting, close game in any sport. But more than that (or, in a way, less than that) and you need experience and understanding. Like knowing a language.

Anonymous said...

Em, the banner in front of the chess table
reads "Expo '92".

So is this from '87 or '92?

Jonathan B said...

It’s from the 1987 World Championship match.