Sunday, 23 February 2014

"Getting" Chess

I've just started reading "The Immortal Game" by David Shenk, and I've already come across some interesting points. In the Introduction he talks about his own enthusiasm as a chess player, and remarks that he is "ambivalent about chess". He attributes this to being "put off by the high gates of entry to even moderately serious play". He theorises that moving from "patzer to mere competence" would require untold hundreds of hours of study and play.
To me this reads like an exaggeration, the sort of comment made by an 'outsider' who doesn't really "get" chess. I've seen this comment repeated in other forums as well, usually by some explaining why they don't, or often in there words, can't play chess. It is either an unwillingness to learn reams and reams of opening theory, or to spend 8 hours a day studying the classics, or a general aversion to highly competitive atmosphere that chess creates. And while there might be a kernel of truth in what they say, it seems a little overblown to me.
Instead I sometimes people either "get" chess ot they do not. Partially this is a technical thing, in that new players quickly understand the point of the game, and are able to improve there play reasonably quickly while assimilating fairly basic information (eg simple checkmates, what the pieces are worth, capturing things for free). But it is also understanding how they fit in to the environment (eg starting at the bottom, knowing that losing is part of the experience etc). And to me this is the real "gates of entry". If you can understand the wider context of what you are doing, passing through successive doors is reasonably straight forward (and you can even understand why some doors are locked). Otherwise it is like being lost in a maze, where the only sensible exit is where you came in.

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