Originally written by Eric Schiller
A Few Chess FAQs
Even people who have never played chess already have opinions on what the game is all about. Though some of their ideas might be right on target, not all people who play chess fit the stereotypical image of a pocket-protector-wearing nerd. Below are a few frequently asked questions about chess and the best answers I can give you.
Do You Have to be a Nerd to Play Chess?
No. Carmen Kass, a supermodel, was elected president of the Estonian Chess Federation in 2004.
Furthermore, there is even a professional wrestler, Randall Black, who goes by the chess-themed name of “Rook Black.” And no matter what your political views are, you have to admit that Arnold Schwarzenegger is not a nerd, and he’s a fanatical chess player.
Does Chess Really Improve Academic Test Results?
Yes. Chess has, in fact, been demonstrated to significantly increase scores on standard tests. There have been many academic studies proving the point, but really it’s just common sense. Chess teaches essential problem solving skills that can be put to use in a variety of testing environments. In some ways, chess is just a big multiple-choice test—you might have up to fifty possible moves in the game at any point, but only a few moves will be worthy of serious consideration.
The academic community in the United States has finally recognized the value of chess, and it is now part of the curriculum in many elementary schools. In some schools, chess is available to all students, while other schools sometimes restrict chess programs to students who have demonstrated high intelligence and good study habits.
I have six children, and I’ve always encouraged all of them to play chess. I think it helps to sort the brain out.”
Do You Have to Be a Genius to Be a Chess Master?
This remains a matter of some dispute, although some work has been offered to show that in order to become a strong chess master, a respectably high IQ of 130 or so is needed. IQ tests given to top chess players have shown exceptionally high marks, especially Bobby Fischer. His IQ has been reported to be higher than 180.
In my experience, the skills required to play chess can be acquired by anyone. To reach the level of mastery, however, an above average intelligence does seem to be required. Then again, if you sit around with top chess players and discuss politics, you might find yourself reconsidering the link between chess and intelligence.
Since the tests given to measure IQ focus on pattern recognition and recall, it does seem fairly obvious that a strong chess player will do well on such tests. However, even the best chess players make some very stupid moves at times—a generally humbling experience which prevents all but a few from getting carried away by their egos.
Can You Play Chess in Jail?
Yes. Chess is permitted in most prisons. Many authorities consider chess a very useful activity because it keeps people out of trouble. Indeed, I’ve often referred to chess as the world’s greatest waste of time. Chess can absorb hours and hours of a person’s time—not just during games, but also when solving puzzles, reading books, and so on. Logically, then, chess is a very natural activity for people who are incarcerated.
This game serves marvelously for those who find themselves shut up in prisons, wherein they are continually inventing some honest pastime which may mitigate and sweeten that odious tediousness. — Giovanni Battista Verci
While many prisoners are given access to chess sets, chess books can be a bit more troublesome. Some prisons refuse to allow chess books to be sent to prisoners and to be placed in a prison library because they are afraid that the cryptic chess moves might contain some sort of secret gang code. If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the rejection notice below. Let me point out, however, that after the publisher forwarded me the message, I got in touch with the Oregon Governor’s office, and they very quickly cleared up the matter and changed the policy. They immediately agreed that this policy was just plain stupid. Still, there are other places that limit chess books for the same foolish reason.
Can Chess Be Dangerous?
Yes…sort of. Chess is such an absorbing activity that it can be dangerous if it is allowed to block out everything else that is going on in the world. For example, it’s just possible that the United States of America succeeded in the Battle of Trenton because the British general was given information about George Washington’s pending attack, but was too busy playing chess and didn’t look at the message, instead just put it in his pocket. He then completely forgot about it, and when his body was dragged back from the unsuccessful battle, the note was still sitting there, presumably unread.
The devil was a great fool to use so many machinations to make poor Job lose patience. He had only to engage him at a game of chess. —Gilles Menage
Many claims have been made for chess, sometimes suggesting that it can be a sort of miracle solution for personal problems, substance abuse, and getting into college. It is true that playing chess helps develop the ability to make decisions quickly, even under pressure. However, you have to realize that just being able to make a decision quickly doesn’t mean that you will always make good decisions. Indeed, playing too much chess and spending too little time socializing usually leads to awkward situations in real life.
A Question for You
I’ve answered a few of your burning questions about chess. Now it’s time for you to answer a question and test your memory and observation skills in the process.
Don’t worry, the answer is printed below. Which of the following films does not have a chess scene?
2001: A Space Odyssey
Play it Again, Sam
Play Misty for Me
Black Hawk Down
Searching for Bobby Fischer
Dawn of the Dead
George of the Jungle
The Luzhin Defense
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
The Seventh Seal
Hercules in New York
The Three Musketeers
Natural Born Killers
Answer: Bedazzled. The film originally had a chess scene, but it ended up on the cutting room floor. However, the scene was included in the director’s cut DVD.
For a big listing and photos of films that feature chess, visit the “Chess in the Cinema” Web site (www.skgiessen.de/movies).
Copyright 2006 by Eric Schiller
excerpted from “The Big Book of Chess”
available from Cardoza Publishing