What about chess?

While playing bridge recently with an elementary school teacher, she said, “Some of my gifted children play chess.”

Too quickly I said, “I don’t think that’s a good activity for gifted children.”

“Why not?” she said.

“It’s an antisocial game. It does nothing to help develop a pleasant personality. It’s all about winning.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Chess brings out the worst in youngsters. It doesn’t require them to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, or the rest of the Scout Law.”

“But they’re using their minds!”

“Yes, but for what good purpose? I’ll agree that some gifted young people can become excellent chess players. Malcolm Gladwell wrote that to become really good at something you have to devote 10,000 hours to it. Mozart did it in music as a child. Bobby Fischer did it in chess and became the youngest world champion at 15.”

“Isn’t that reason enough for children to play?”

“No. There are few redeeming values. The moves are simple to learn. The object is to win and to humiliate your opponent. Gifted children learn to do this early on.”

“Doesn’t it improve concentration?”

“It requires concentration. Bobby Fischer was disturbed by the height of the table and by squeaky chairs in championship competition.”

“Don’t you play chess?”

“Yes. There are a few times when it’s appropriate. I crossed the Pacific Ocean on a troop ship in 1952. It was a boring 31 days. We made one stop for a few hours in Hawaii where I bought a chess set and taught a friend to play. By the time we reached Yokohama he was beating me regularly.”

“Are there other times?

“Yes, as an alternative to television, perhaps. And as an alternative to reading John Fenimore Cooper’s ‘Leatherstocking Tales’ as well as the ‘Waverly Novels.’ Also, rather than doing homework or your income tax, or cleaning the attic or garage.”

“Where do you find chess players?”

“The best nearly always come from Chicago, New York, or San Francisco where they learn from other good players. The computer has contributed to chess, but you can’t really play other players on the computer because they may have another computer with a program that selects moves for them. So you are really playing against a computer rather than a human player.”

“Isn’t that unscrupulous?”


“And don’t chess players use clocks to speed up the game?”

“Two clocks are used. When a player makes his move, he hits a plunger or control that stops his clock and starts his opponent’s. Some of the best games can be played when each player is allowed only five minutes to complete all moves. In tournaments, each player usually has two hours to make 40 moves.”

“Don’t Russians excel at chess?”

“They do. The state subsidizes chess players and their training. It’s a mean, dirty, underhanded game which suits Russians quite well.”

“Do you know any local players?”

“I remember a Thomas Dale student who won the Virginia Scholastic Championship. Then he quit chess, saying, ‘People think you’re doing something intellectual when you’re just wasting time.’”    

“So why do you continue to play?”

“I’m not gifted.”


Post new comment

More information about formatting options

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Related Content

04/18/2012 - 11:08
03/28/2012 - 11:11
02/15/2012 - 12:09