The year of COVID-19 has now also ushered in a season of chess fever, in the wake of the Netflix drama series, The Queens Gambit. It is the third contagion in a century, although the first not to be triggered by a real-world chess event.
The first chess fever swept through Moscow in 1925 (and, subsequently, throughout the newly-founded Soviet Union). It coincided with a great chess tournament that brought together several brilliant players and which saw a Russian, Yefim Bogoljubov, win the tournament of his life.
The febrile atmosphere was captured in a silent film, a comic love story called Chess Fever, which featured footage from the tournament and a walk-on part by the charismatic world champion Jos Raul Capablanca.
The second epidemic spread in the early 1970s, thanks to the massive publicity given to the 1972 Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky match, in which the lone, temperamental American genius took on the Soviet chess machine and won.
Now we have The Queens Gambit, featuring a troubled young woman, Beth Harmon, as a chess prodigy in the 1950s and 1960s, who makes it to the top of the chess world at a time when no woman was anywhere near the top 10 chess players (no woman did before Judith Polgar in the 1990s).
Worldwide, a new chess fever has spiked. Sales of chess sets have gone up, in places, by 1,000 per cent, and chess coaches and websites are registering an unprecedented rate of enquiries, not least from girls.
Everywhere? Well, this newspaper reports that one indomitable island still holds out against conquest by the royal game. The Malta Chess Federation is lobbying to have chess taught in primary schools as it is in some countries but the extraordinary worldwide popularity of Harmon will not be helping here.
Its a pity because there is a strong rational case for chess in schools. To see it, however, we need to take a disenchanted view of The Queens Gambit.
Netflix has come up with a winning formula that presents three interlocking cultural obsessions: feminism in the face of male bullies; the cultivation of talent and passion against adversity; and drugs. Oh, and it hooked chess players because, for once, the chess played in a TV series was spectacular rather than ridiculous as it was, say, in an episode of Columbo (during the Fischer craze) or, more recently, of House MD.
The formula recycles powerful myths about genius and drugs and chess and mental health. Harmon drinks and pops pills but remains svelte and smooth-skinned, not to mention lucid. Clearly, medical reality keeps a discreet distance from the story. So does the psychology of chess and the skills it imparts.
Alas, the series bears some resemblance to the film Pawn Sacrifice (2015). It is supposedly a homage to Fischers title match but there isnt a significant detail that it doesnt get wrong. The real, bohemian Spassky is unrecognisable. Above all, youd think that chess drove Fischer mad.
All the evidence, in fact, points in the other direction. Chess kept Fischer sane. He went off the rails, into the ravine of anti-Semitic paranoia, after he gave up chess.
The game kept him anchored to a search for objective truth on the board. It led him to make cool assessments of his own weaknesses so that he could eradicate them. A dogmatic conspiracy theorist when he was spouting off about international relations, over the board he was the flexible genius of trading one advantage for another, astounding even world-class grandmasters.
Chess in schools will teach habits of mind for todays world. Such habits do not depend on an extraordinary level of skill at chess- Ranier Fsadni
Its unfortunate that in Harmon we see a reinforcement of the mythic association between fragile mental health and chess. Its great for TV drama but makes it more difficult to make the case for chess in schools.
Because that case has little to do with cultivating extraordinary chess talent or catapulting young minds into an introverted world of their own, just as teaching music is not about searching for the next Mozart or Joseph Calleja.
To get better at chess is to get training in searching for truth, alongside a mentor. What matters is not age but the test of truth over the board. In chess, bluster and wishful thinking do not live long. Bluff, gambles and psychological ploys exist but even these need to be based on objective assessment.
Chess strategy is not really a matter of seeing many moves ahead. Its a matter of learning and spotting patterns. It teaches critical thinking but, above all, reasoning by analogy what Aristotle identified as the thinking technique of genius.
A young player will learn how to review his or her own games to identify characteristic mistakes. She will learn the advantages of self-knowledge and how to build up a well-balanced set of skills.
During the game itself, she will learn how to take decisions based on the time and information available and her psychological assessment of her opponent. She will learn a variety of decision-making techniques.
Her game preparation will include using a computer for baseline decision-making. In a world of AI, she will learn how to work with a computer to bring the best out of both human and machine.
In short, chess in schools will teach habits of mind for todays world. Such habits do not depend on an extraordinary level of skill at chess. They can be instilled thanks to the game but then be developed in academic subjects.
So, by all means be entranced and enthralled by Harmons destiny. Long for the second series. However, in thinking about whether youd like your child or grandchild to be taught chess, remember this. The game doesnt send them spinning into a world of their own. It equips them for the only world there is.
Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.
Read the rest here:
- No women at Tata Steel chess this year, but game is growing in popularity - DutchNews.nl - January 20th, 2021
- MCCL to host 2021 All-Girls State Championship on Feb. 20 - The Madison Record - themadisonrecord.com - January 20th, 2021
- Yamagata: Discover snow monsters and a hidden mountain temple - Japan Today - January 20th, 2021
- 5 key concepts in poker and chess | chess24.com - chess24 - chess24 - January 20th, 2021
- Bryce Hall confronts creepy stalker invading their TikTok house - Dexerto - January 20th, 2021
- Twitch Chess GM Behind the PogChamps Event Makes Up With the Botez Sisters - EssentiallySports - January 15th, 2021
- Grand Chess Tour: Carlsen, Nakamura Only As Wildcards - Chess.com - January 15th, 2021
- 11 of the best musical soundtracks to test your speakers - What Hi-Fi? - January 15th, 2021
- Fiji Chess hopes to stage a tournament in the North - FBC News - January 15th, 2021
- The Voice Celebrates: Bar-Mitzvahs of Jake Stoopler and Jonah Kutikov - Jewish Community Voice - January 15th, 2021
- Wojtaszek: I'd like to get into the Top 10 - chess24 - January 15th, 2021
- The benefits of approaching this year like a total newbie - KDRV - January 13th, 2021
- World famous Hastings chess tournament takes place this weekend - Hastings Observer - January 9th, 2021
- Sailor Moon: 10 Fights That Are Better In The Anime | CBR - CBR - Comic Book Resources - January 9th, 2021
- Draft Results for the LCS Lock In Tournament Group Stage - The Game Haus - January 9th, 2021
- FIDE confirm postponement of Women's Grand Prix in Gibraltar - Insidethegames.biz - January 9th, 2021
- Learn The Queen's Gambit and More Chess Plays In This Bundle - IGN Southeast Asia - January 9th, 2021
- Rook No Further! Coral Springs Holds Open Play Chess and Tournament - Coral Springs Talk - Coral Springs Talk - January 6th, 2021
- Radjabov Wins Airthings Masters - Chess.com - January 6th, 2021
- Azeri-Jewish Chess Grandmaster Radjabov in tears after winning tournament - The Jerusalem Post - January 6th, 2021
- Yu Yangyi and Tan Zhongyi are the 2020 Chinese champions - Chessbase News - January 4th, 2021
- For Premium only: Who do you want in the next Champions Chess Tour event? - chess24 - January 4th, 2021
- Snow, Rambo and everything in between: Leon Mendonca is India's 67th GM - ESPN - January 4th, 2021
- Chess: Goas 14-year-old boy becomes Indias 67th GM - Star of Mysore - January 4th, 2021
- Kriti Kharbanda arrives in Lucknow for her next rom-com, '14 Phere', directed by Devanshu Singh - Knocksense - January 4th, 2021
- Quintessential grandmillennial: A show with all the right moves - Irish Examiner - January 4th, 2021
- Final chess tournament for the year on today - Stabroek News - December 31st, 2020
- Monsters of 2020: The Queen's Gambit - Mother Jones - December 31st, 2020
- Chess: Goa's 14-Year-Old Leon Mendonca Becomes India's 67th Grandmaster - Outlook India - December 31st, 2020
- Why Chess is thriving in Kenya despite Covid-19 pandemic - The Standard - December 31st, 2020
- Wilton Bulletin Board: Meditation, cooking, stream cameras - The Wilton Bulletin - December 31st, 2020
- Not particularly fusced: reflections on a first term - Cherwell Online - December 31st, 2020
- Writer's Choice: Trent Murray's Top Five Stories of 2020 - The Esports Observer - December 31st, 2020
- Frontline workers owed 'debt of gratitude,' GG says in year-end message - Yahoo News Canada - December 31st, 2020
- Meet Norfolk's own queen of the chessboard - Eastern Daily Press - December 29th, 2020
- The Queen's Gambit Does a Lot Well. Portraying Being a Woman in Chess Isn't One of Them. - Ms. Magazine - December 27th, 2020
- What the Hell Is Quantum Chess? | IE - Interesting Engineering - December 27th, 2020
- Explore the History of Chess From Ancient India to the Cold War Rivalries - My Modern Met - December 27th, 2020
- 2020 year of power struggle in AICF, players keep the flag flying - DTNext - December 27th, 2020
- Online tournaments have strengthened local players - Stabroek News - December 27th, 2020
- Year in Review 2020, Biggest Sports Stories: After t..issues, India declared joint-winners of Chess Olympiad - Firstpost - December 27th, 2020
- Christmas puzzles: Add-a-king, and take that back! - Chessbase News - December 27th, 2020
- Chess and horse sport share one common element: The expensive part - Horsetalk - December 27th, 2020
- GM Zavokhir of Uzbekistan crowned champion at Liberation Cup - Oherald - December 27th, 2020
- I was 13 and suddenly winning everything - India Today - December 27th, 2020
- What Are You Paying For in a $300 Chess Set? Mostly the Knights - The New York Times - December 26th, 2020
- The 5 biggest moments in streaming from 2020 - Dot Esports - December 26th, 2020
- WCM Magpily eyes another title in Balinas-Pichay Cup - manilastandard.net - December 26th, 2020
- NASCAR Team up with the World Poker Tour while Artificial Intelligence Breaks New Barriers - HighstakesDB - December 26th, 2020
- Live chess tournament broadcasts | chess24.com - December 18th, 2020
- Welcome | US Chess.org - December 18th, 2020
- IM Martin Neubauer on Simon Williams' Budapest Gambit - Chessbase News - December 18th, 2020
- Chess: 'Game of the Year' decides title as Covid-19 hits Russian championship - The Guardian - December 18th, 2020
- The Creative's Gambit - Creative Review - December 18th, 2020
- 4 tips on how to stay focused, from a chess grandmaster - CNBC - December 16th, 2020
- Next Chess Olympiad In 2022; Budapest Wins Bid For 2024 - Chess.com - December 16th, 2020
- Superbet Foundation Becomes Principal Partner of Grand Chess Tour 2021 - European Gaming Industry News - December 16th, 2020
- Superfinals: Nepomniachtchi and Karjakin still tied on top - Chessbase News - December 16th, 2020
- Beccacece and a chess tournament with the Racing kids - Inspired Traveler - December 16th, 2020
- The reign of 1990s star vintage as over-the-board chess resumes in Moscow - Financial Times - December 16th, 2020
- M'sian Parents Are Sending Their Kids For Chess Classes Because Of 'The Queen's Gambit' - SAYS - December 16th, 2020
- Russian Superfinals 9-10: Title race goes down to the last round - chess24 - December 16th, 2020
- 2020 Speed Chess Championship: All The Information - Chess.com - December 13th, 2020
- The Grand Chess Tour Returns In 2021 - Chessbase News - December 11th, 2020
- Autumn Series on Playchess # 8 - Play and win prizes - Chessbase News - December 11th, 2020
- From Our Archives: Here's a look back at this week in 1976 - McDowell News - December 11th, 2020
- International squad beats Spain in training match - Chessbase News - December 11th, 2020
- Chess: Polina Shuvalova shines as over-the-board play resumes in Moscow - The Guardian - December 11th, 2020
- Grandmaster Sam Shankland '14 on The Queen's Gambit and Chess Today | Alumni Stories | Alumni, Friends and Families | Brandeis University - Brandeis... - December 11th, 2020
- Moscow will host the Chess Olympiad 2022, Budapest will host the Chess Olympiad 2024 - Chessbase News - December 11th, 2020
- How The Queens Gambit Is Inspiring Women to Take Up Chess - The New York Times - December 11th, 2020
- Young Chess Stars Meet in a Winner Take All Tournament Checkmate! - The Zebra - December 9th, 2020
- The real-life Beth Harmon trounced men before 'The Queen's Gambit' - Insider - INSIDER - December 9th, 2020
- Think you know the US map by heart? Take our quiz to know for sure - Film Daily - December 9th, 2020
- Pegasystems' Trefler on leadership and strategy - learned from chess - Yahoo Finance - December 8th, 2020
- Superfinals: Karjakin and Shuvalova take the lead - Chessbase News - December 8th, 2020
- Netflix show credited with renewing interest in chess - HalifaxToday.ca - December 8th, 2020
- The little known story of chesss real Beth Harmon - The Independent - December 8th, 2020
- Russian Superfinals 1-2: Karjakin & Nepo among the leaders - chess24 - December 8th, 2020
- The stillness of the hunter - Chessbase News - December 8th, 2020