How to address the age-old question: Is chess a sport?
A sport is a human activity that requires skill and physical exertion, with individuals or teams competing against each other for entertainment. It also features competition and social participation, with fixed rules and patterns that exist through formal organizations.
Chess is among the most debated as to whether it’s merely a board game or a sport. So, let’s break it down into its component to see if chess fits the definition.
What Makes Chess a Sport
Many aspects of chess mirror major sports like tennis, golf, archery, and the like. Here are some of them.
Chess is Competitive
Chess is among the most intense sports, albeit for short periods, involving a vigorous struggle against the opponent to win. The experience of sitting across a fierce opponent and watching the clock tick is terrifying yet thrilling.
In chess, even a single lapse of concentration can make all the difference, which is why there is a range of progressive levels of competition. This helps ensure that players of a certain skill are paired with equal opponents to allow a fair match.
Moreover, as with most sports, the tournaments against the best represent the prime of chess. Competitions with the most revered chess players in the US include Cairns Cup, US Chess Championships, and Sinquefield Cup.
Chess Requires Skill Building
Unlike what many believe, chess is not a game of luck. Instead, elite chess players train, study, and master the moves for years, building extreme focus, coordination, and patience. The top players are also expected to repeatedly practice openings, study endgames, and solve riddles to keep their minds afresh.
Some might get lucky in chess, but only due to the errors of their opponent. Nevertheless, this alone can’t help distinguish chess as a sport, as many other questions, like driving, require skill development.
Chess is Mentally Demanding
All sports have a mental element. These include the imperative cognitive presence of a soccer player, quick reactions by a table tennis player, or fast decisions by a basketballer.
Chess, however, goes a step further. In chess, there are over 38⁸⁰ possible moves, also known as “Shannon’s Number.” Therefore, a player has to anticipate the opponent’s next several moves beforehand to ensure victory.
This requires extraordinary mental capability, which is rarely present naturally. Instead, players sharpen their minds via riddles and meditation for years.
Chess is Physically Demanding
Perhaps the most overlooked component of chess is its physical element. Players don’t just use the basic motor skills to move the pieces across the board, but much more.
For one, they have to sit and play for hours, overcoming the fatigue to ensure a smooth and competitive game. As the stress builds up, the blood pressure rises, pulse fastens, and respiration rate increases. Players train and practice extensively to keep this from impacting the chances of victory.
Therefore, contenders have nutritionists and fitnesses coaches who formulate informed fitness routines and diet plans. Bobby Fischer and Magnus Carlsen are well-known for their demanding exercise regimens, which helped sharpen their minds and prevent concentration lapses.
“In some tournaments, you’re playing five hours a day for two weeks. The physical training is essential for when you enter that fifth or sixth hour of play,” per Magnus Carlsen.
Carlsen approaches his training like an elite athlete with interval training on the treadmill, yoga, and soccer games. With a personal chef, Carlsen eats mostly a vegetarian diet.
This aspect is essential for the debate, as all sports definitions emphasize the physical factor. However, only chess players can acknowledge the physical toll of the sport.
Magnus Carlsen’s Training Camp Video
Chess is Universal
Chess was created 1500 years ago in India and was initially called chatrang. Since then, it has spread worldwide through Muslim conquests of India and South Europe. Soon after, it gained popularity in the West too.
Today, chess is played by over 600 million people around the world. Its presence now serves as a common ground between people from numerous cultures, backgrounds, and languages.
Moreover, people play chess worldwide irrespective of gender, age, or ethnicity, bridging the gap between societies. Even blind and disabled people now play chess.
Professor Stephen Hawking is among the most famous people who loved to play chess with their family. It, thus, allows international communication and companionship often linked with “sport.”
Chess has a Set of Rules and Etiquette
A significant part of the definition of sport is the presence of fixed rules. In soccer, for example, only the goalkeeper can touch the ball, players can’t kick it outside the field, and much more.
Similarly, in chess, each of the pieces can be moved in set directions. For instance, the rook can only move in straight lines while the queen can also be moved in diagonals. Additionally, the players are required to shake hands before the game to instill sportsmanship and respect.
Breaches of such etiquette can lead to severe penalties, like the forfeit of GM Ivan Cheparinov upon refusing a handshake. The International Chess Federation regulates all these rules.
This organization also tests all players in major events for substances that might give them a competitive advantage. The use of computer assistance during the game is also strictly prohibited, thus ensuring a fair game.
Like other sports, numerous national and international chess tournaments and world championships are held worldwide each year. These include London Chess Classic, Berlin City Chess, North Sea Cup, Paris City Chess Championship, Leningrad City Chess Championship, and Hastings International Chess Congress.
The World Open chess tournament and Lone Pine International are among the most desired tournaments. These are not only a marvel to behold but lead to numerous accolades for the winners. Grandmaster and International Master are among the top awards, followed by FIDE Master and Candidate Master.
World chess champions have also won national Sportsman of the Year awards in their respective countries. Some such examples include Magnus Carlsen from Norway, Vishy Anand from India, and Veselin Topalov from Bulgaria.
Player Ranking System
The Player Ranking System was first developed in 1960 for chess. Soon after that, a similar algorithm was adopted by several other sports. These include basketball, American football, hockey, golf, cricket, soccer, rugby, and even korfball.
Therefore, not only is chess universal and older than many other sports, it has roots spreading across them. Hence, some regard chess as more of a sport than even these more popular ones.
Chess is Recognised as a Sport
If all that wasn’t proof enough, chess is also recognized as a sport by organizations throughout the world. The International Olympic Committee, for instance, has categorized chess as a sport since 2000. There was also a chess event at the 2006 Asian Games and then in Guangzhou in 2010.
Additionally, chess was considered for inclusion in Pan-American games. Tokyo and Russia also supported bringing it to the World Olympic Games. Finally, 24 out of 28 European Union Members recognize chess as a sport, with the others expected to join soon.
Our Verdict: Chess is a Sport
Chess is a sport officially recognized as such by over 100 countries and the International Olympic Committee. However, it may be regarded as more of a mental sport than a physical one.
A mental sport can be defined as “a game of skill with a more crucial mental exercise component than a physical one.” This is, however, not to say that chess is not physically demanding, as was proven otherwise earlier.
Instead, chess can be considered a challenge to the mind, pushing human intellect to feats while developing critical thinking among players. Either way, chess is not merely a board game but a true sport.
By Emily Sharon
Emily writes about sports, entertainment, and family.
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