Games, analysis and discussion

12 reasons to play chess

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Here are 12 possible reasons I chose (from the many) that people may like to play chess because of, without much taking skill level or ambition into account (for me, what first grabbed my attention as a child was the magnificent & regal beauty of a typical chess set). Particular emphasis is given to factors that are unique to chess. There are 5 general themes: Excitement, Entertainment, Artistry, Satisfaction & Personal Expression:

On the lighter side:

1. Cheapos (Excitement, Entertainment): Those shallow chess tactics that most everyone should see, but at times fail to. They never get old as far as their entertainment value goes, should a player fall into one, though as skill level increases so does the relative rarity of that occuring, at least in a game that's not played very quickly. The basic categories for such tactics are traps, pitfalls and swindles. A trap that is set takes an opportunity to offer some sort of bait, with the hope (but hopefully not expectation) that the opponent will fall for it. A pitfall occurs when a player doesn't even fall for a trap, but makes a move that quickly leads to a lost or much worse position without any sort of bait being offered. A swindle is a desperate trap set from a position that's bad, and which should backfire in some way if the opponent avoids it properly.

2. Speed chess (Excitement, Entertainment): Fast chess that's usually played for fun because it's fast and thus error-prone. Five minutes per side on a chess clock is its classic time control. Playing speed chess games using an unfamiliar chess opening can help one to learn it at little cost.

3. Bughouse chess (Excitement, Entertainment): Aka Doubles Chess. The most popular variant of chess, normally played using speed chess time controls (thus it's error-prone), but with two teams of two players passing reusable captured pieces to each other between two chessboards, with communication allowed as per the rules. Great fun, especially for the young or young at heart. It can be played in a skittles room outside a tournament hall, if one is available. It's unique, thanks to chess being unique because of its own rules.

The finer things:

4. Sacrificing (Excitement, Entertainment, Artistry, Satisfaction): Giving up 1 or more of your men temporarily or for perceived compensation that may be strategic or else somewhat speculative. Gambits are chess openings that involve speculative sacrifices, often of a pawn. Sacs that are not provably completely unsound add to any excitement created by a given game.

5. Combinations & tactics (Excitement, Entertainment, Artistry, Satisfaction): Combinations are forcing continuations, involving 1 or more sacrifices, which lead to a winning or much improved position. A lot of the brillance in chess involves such, and playing a nice combo that wins a game can really make your day. Tactics include combinations and other relatively short term operations which are forcing. They culminate in such things as forks or back rank/smothered checkmates. The latter, plus the large number of playable openings from the start position & a nice average of 40 moves to a game (both rather unique to chess), illustrating some of the more pleasing peculiarities of standard chess that make it harder for other activities or board games of skill to compete.

6. Attacking & defending (Excitement, Entertainment, Artistry, Satisfaction): Attacking the opponent's king position, or perhaps even a mere weak pawn in his position, can make a player's day if he is successful. Similarly, defending can be rewarding if one already has (or can obtain) some advantage that he may keep or increase if he thwarts his attacking opponent's intentions.

7. Endgames (Artistry, Satisfaction): Generally arise as soon as queens are traded, whereupon the kings can often safely venture farther from home. There are technical endgames, where you can know from previous study at home if one side should win or draw for certain with good play. Many others are strategic endgames, where the final result is not yet certain and it's up to you to do the best you can with endgame strategy principles. Winning/drawing endgames might be seen as winning/drawing ugly, but for good players it's often the time to bring home the bacon with virtuoso play, and there can still be drama.

8. Maneuvering (Artistry, Satisfaction): Improving the position of one's pieces gradually (or cat and mouse play, where one shuffles one's pieces around until hopefully the other player must give ground or makes a definite mistake), when there's little else to do. Some players excel at this art, and they have learned to be very patient, if they weren't before taking up chess.

9. Strategy (Artistry, Satisfaction): Long term play, maneuvering or planning. Worsening your opponent's position in some way can lead to a winning or superior endgame, or an attack on the enemy king position. Enjoying building up slowly when the opponent can do little that's effective is often a way to go.

10. Calculating (Excitement, Entertainment, Satisfaction): Whether you're thinking of tactics, strategy or both, calculation is required. A player that can calculate beyond cheapos, with the aid of ruling out many moves as unpromising or unthreatening throughout, has a chance of being formidable, and at times gets to enjoy the flow of analysis in his mind throughout the process.

11. Opening preparation (Personal Expression, Satisfaction): Study at home can be very enjoyable and advantageous to the chessplayer. Selecting or repairing one's opening repertoire, or preparing surprise moves in advance and/or for specific opponents, can help to make a player eager for games to come. There is great room for personal style in chess (in ways unique to it), perhaps never more so than in the opening phase of a game, and current playing strengths & weaknesses can also guide one's choice of opening.

12. Personal improvement (Satisfaction): One can improve at chess at least up to a certain point that's thought to be limited largely by one's age or talent, or one can obtain benefits in real life from playing and studying chess. Learning good study habits, improving one's patience or memory, and having extra motivation to get physically fitter (i.e. for the sake of one's chess playing form) are just some possible examples, even if one only ever gets a modest taste of success in relation to some or all of the previous 11 possible reasons to enjoy playing chess that I've provided.

A link re: why chess is so popular among board games of skill:

A link re: my ideas about the future of chess:

Updated 09-03-2018 at 01:36 PM by Kevin Pacey

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