I’ve been a chess player since high school, though I didn’t really study the game’s historical strategies until I was in my 30s. I’ll spare you the traditional and pretentious notation of my skill rating and just say, my playing is at an intermediate level. I can hold my own with the average casual player.
Chess first appeared in India during the 6th Century and is now played in more than 170 countries. From the humblest villages to royal courts worldwide, it can be a powerful bridge between cultures. Because of its complex attacks and strategic play, chess has the reputation of being a game only for intellectuals, or the uber-smart.
Nonsense. If that were true, I certainly wouldn’t have a board in my family room, one in my office, and even a couple of 3-D versions. But it does require you to think, helps you to learn patience, and gives you a better understanding of strategic thinking. In fact, It’s been proven that chess can actually enhance your mind – even make you smarter.
According to ChessWizards.com, “Chess has been proven to increase your IQ, improve memory function, help develop higher levels of creativity, simultaneously exercise both sides of the brain, and help prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia.” Research reported by Harvard and the National Institutes of Health, as well as many others, confirm the statement. I know that chess helps me concentrate. I’ve played against beginners, computers, and advanced players, and I certainly learn something new with every move.
There are no passive games of chess. It’s not mindless entertainment and I think children should learn the game early in life because it can help improve critical thinking, decision-making, and reasoning skills.
So what has chess to do with the weekly bubble gum machine wisdom I dispense to you? Good question. There are many games that help you learn strategic thinking, and chess is the grandmother of them all. But there’s much more to it than that.
I tend to prefer a physical chess board rather than a computerized game. For me, sitting there, examining the pieces, weighing each move, offers a unique experience.
My mind slows down, my heart rate decreases, my thoughts become clearer. It can quite literally calm me in ways nothing else does. There’s something innate and serene about the rank and file of a board, orderly, structured. Maybe it’s because of the challenge that comes with playing the game, the relaxed conversation I usually have with whoever is kind enough to sit across from me, or just the chance to disconnect. Whatever the reason, it offers a more civilized, human interaction.
As I mentioned before, chess, in and of itself, is not particularly hard. The rules of play are far less complicated than most family board games. But it’s the strategy that offers the challenge, exploiting the power of each piece and the consequences of every move. There are hundreds if not thousands of well-known openings, attacks, and responses. Even so, every game has its own unique qualities. Every combination of players shares a different dynamic than any other. It’s fascinating.
For me, it’s the opponent that really makes the game worth the time. I find that there’s a social component to the game that I’m not generally open to anywhere else. That said, I generally only play with people I know well, for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here. Good conversation, a challenging game, and a shared experience can have incredibly positive influences on your mental and physical well-being.
Playing a game of chess quiets that constant whirring in my head that comes from a busy, modern family life and career. Instead, deep thoughts of my next move and anticipation of my opponent’s strategy focus my mind. If chess seems intimidating, I still urge you to give it a chance. At the very least, find something that has the same effect on you as chess has on me.
Choose a game that quiets your mind and helps you to engage with another person on an intellectual and social level. Turn off the devices, sit across the table from someone, and experience that challenge again — maybe even for the first time.
Gery Deer is a Greene County resident and columnist. He can be reached at www.gldcommunications.com.