Chess is an ancient game, writes grandmaster Yuri Lvovich Averbakh (1922-2022) in his delightful book “A History of Chess, From Chaturanga to the Present Day,” which originated in India and is almost fifteen hundred years old. It originated when the rulers and the highest castes of Indian society needed to learn how to fight a war, when hordes of nomads from Central Asia surged from the northwest into India. The game was called Chaturanga in Hindi.
Like western civilization was inherited from the near east, and taken from Babylonia and Egypt, the game of chess moved from India to Iran and Persian high society start to play, not only to fight but how to stay in control. In the 7th century Arab conquered Iran and became acquainted with the game and the game settled in the Arab Caliphate during the next two century and became highly developed. Chess was called Shatranj and there were even then masters and grandmasters.
In the 9th century chess came to Europe. At first it was part of the education of Kings but then spread to the commoners. In Russia chess is traced back to the 10th century and is believed to have come from the east.
In Russia following the Byzantine traditions, the Russian church equated chess to gambling with dice and forbid this along with other “demonic obsessions.” but this did not stop the spreading and popularity. It has been attested that many of the Tsars from Ivan the Terrible to Nicolas II played chess.
Chess is a gentlemen’s game, formerly a game of honor and dignity for the noblemen of society, but it can be suggested behavior was at times questionable. At the same time, chess has an strict etiquette, a code of conduct based on respect and civility any educated and self-respecting person already knows and follows.
I respect chess which I think is a very fair game, usually based on normal relations between two competitive players, although this is rare, there are dishonorable players who are known to seek to unsettle their opponents, which can create added tensions. It’s fair to say chess is a violent conflict between the mental and intellectual capacities of two players and with every move you are in a silent conversation with your opponent.
There is tension and stress during the different stages, which starts with the opening, developing and seizing the centre of the board and to find and react and punish the mistakes of your opponent, thereby incrementing in small steps the advantages.
Chess shows us a mirror of life, and attracts people with various talents, personalities and character. The motivation to play chess may vary. For some it’s a fondness for games; for others a distraction from other activities; for the third it’s an intellectual and creative outlet; and for the fifth it’s competition on amateur of professional level.
Like life itself in chess there will be setbacks and pluses, there will be bad choices and good choices, and how we deal with defeat shows us who we are. Once the game is over we shake our opponents hand and compliment on his win or play in case of a draw or loss and sit down to analyze the game and discuss how we analyzed the position on the board.
A played chess game is a learning experience and offers the opportunity to grow and to get better, but in every game there are gracious losers like, Jose Capablanca, who Boris Spassky, World Champion from ‘69 to ‘72, considered to be the best player of all time.
Boris Spassky was probably the kindest and gracious of all chess players, while Anatoly Karpov, a gentleman trapped between the Fischer and Kasparov antics. Also Lev Aronian and Viswanathan “Vishy” Anand fall in the category of the many gracious players, true Ambassadors of the sport.
On the other sides of the equation there are other great chess players, more temperamental and not so gracious losers like Alexander Alekhine, who in 1922, spectacularly resigned against Ernst Grünfeld by hurling his king across the room; Aaron Nimzowitsch, at a lighting chess tournament in Berlin, leapt onto his chair and bellowed across the tournament hall: “Why must I lose to this idiot?”; Viktor Kortchnoi, also known as “Viktor the Terrible” left if he lost the room very angrily, but when he won was polite and happy to analyse the game.
Then there was the despicable behavior of Bobby Fisher, known for his brilliance, who changed the face of chess and triggered a global chess boom and let himself be used as a pawn in the cold war when he met the gentlemen Boris Spassky in Reykjavík for the 1972 World Chess Championship. Also Gerry Kasparov is known to react less philosophical to defeat, in the words of Gerry Kasparov “I’m a sore loser, I still am.” Also Magnus Carlson shows behaviour which seems to representative for the times we live in.
Over time there has been a natural development and the face of chess has changed, like society has changed. In the words of Garry Kasparov, “chess imitates life.” Within chess, there has been a romantic era, a classical era and a modern era, which sometimes paralleled developments in art and literature.
The next logical step was for chess to be impacted by computers and artificial intelligence. Most of the grandmasters and super grandmasters (rated at a FIDE above 2700) utilize modern AI chess engines to analyse their games, as well as the games of their competitors. There’s a complete turnaround in the way in which chess games are now played.
The case can be made, chess engines have had during the last fifty years, since Alan Turin first program-assisted chess algorithm was created, have had a negative effect on the game because it’s more about theory than actual practice and play.
Others disagree and argue that the influence of AI on chess has led to a drastic improvement in competition and further advancements are yet to be made to challenge modern players. Personally I prefer the way the game was played between humans, by players like Alexander Alekhine, Mikhail Botvinnik, Jose Raul Capablanca, Max Euwe, Bobby Fisher or Emanuel Lasker.
One can also make the case, chess players have evolved with society and most regrettably the era of the gentlemen’s game is behind us. But this applies to many aspects in society and also other sports like tennis, golf, field hockey, rowing and sailing have become more open to the general public and the culture has changed.
Add to this the influence of the anonymous nature of the internet which has influenced the fabric of society and influences this behavior. The faceless persons in cyberspace who are cowardly insulting and rude from behind their keyboard, more insulting then they ever would dare to be in person. This is not only in chess, but the general nature of our daily conversation.
To answer the question on Quora, “Does the game of chess tend to attract less gentlemen (i.e. being rude and less sportsmanship) than some other games or sports?”
No, I do not think so, but chess has become more open to chess participants from all walks of life and mirrors the behavior in society.
This diatribe expresses my personal views and observation.