Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The language of chess

The Vice website has a regular feature "The Hidden Language" which looks at the specialist words and phrases used by people taking part in a particular activity. Recently they looked at the hidden language of chess, interviewing well known chess coach Bruce Pandolofini.
The interview is fairly brief, but they did cover some of the more common terms.  Up front Pandolifini pointed out that what is the common usage of stalemate in the media (ie "negotiations have reached a stalemate") really should be replaced by Zugzwang, or even "Squeeze", which is slang for mutual zugzwang. Some of the more derisive terms also get a run, such as Patzer and Fish. There is also more run of the mill terms such as promotion and checkmate, while "A pawns lust to expand" is one of the more obscure phrases (although well known to anyone who has read Nizowitsch)
Reading the article brought back memories of my chess playing youth, when such phrases peppered my own speech. While I am more polite these days, patzer, shmuck and putz were all good yiddish words that I used on occasion. (Note, if you want some slight NSFW fun, look up the meaning for putz). And at times it seemed that there was a competition to see who could use the most obscure slang, including sentences like "I had a queen side pawn majority, but with a strong outpost on f5, I was able to find a pawn break on the e file, double my rooks, and crack him with my g pawn. Shafted by the plastic man!"
I'm not sure what language young chess players speak these days (is it all about centi-pawns?) but I really do think that the education of the well rounded chess player should always include a course in chess terms and idioms.

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