Between a Rook and a Hard Place

by Martin O’Malley July 2020

Like most other walks of life, lockdown brought an abrupt end to chess games, clubs and tournaments across the country. Whilst some sense of ‘normality’ is starting to seep its way back into our particular corner of the world, it seems as though chess hasn’t suffered quite so severely as one may initially have thought.

As reported in The Mirror, chess apps and websites saw a 400% increase in memberships over the first month of lockdown alone. As with many age-old games, chess has adapted to the online realm quite spectacularly and, whether games are played on a screen or a board, over a phone, skype or zoom call, the game hasn’t just endured, it has thrived.

One doesn’t have to strive too far to find a puff piece on the benefits of chess, though that’s not to say that the praise is undeserved. Chess is an undoubtedly prodigious way of learning foresight, pattern recognition, patience and creative thinking. However, in light of lockdown, I think that the most beneficial lesson that chess has to impart is that of fortitude.

There is a sociability to chess that stimulates sportsmanship. When one practises the guitar, their shortcomings are due to inexperience or a lack of practise. Whilst these factors also apply to chess, there is the added element that you are hoping your experience and practise will outmatch that of your adversary and therefore, the cliché of picking yourself up and dusting yourself off is one that chess players are familiar with.

It takes courage to analyse a single loss, never mind a third, fourth or fifth consecutive loss in a row and yet, this can often be the way of the game. A good opponent will know the feeling of loss and hopefully offer tips and advice for the betterment of your game. More often than not, a computer won’t, or at least not in a way as conducive to learning as it would be coming from another person.

That’s not to say that computers are useless by way of chess tuition, far from it in fact. Chess.com, Dr. Wolf and Chess for Kids are just a few examples of the excellent resources available online for chess players to benefit from. However, to those who want to practise against computers, I offer one bit of advice: Take your time. Take your time choosing your moves and take the time to analyse your game, win or lose.

In my experience, losing to a computer can often be more frustrating than instructive, but this is purely down to my own personal shortcomings. By not treating a computer with the same respect I would a human opponent, I’m often lured into the rapidity of the computer’s play. 9 times out of 10, this results in a rather abrupt loss. Then, due to the speed of such a loss, and in my daft, human ignorance, I tend to go straight back in for more punishment and so the cycle begins anew.

Would you play four or five games against another player back to back with no breaks? Not likely, it could take hours! No matter how fast a player you are, a computer will always play faster. Trying to match its pace is a fool’s game and will only lead to the detriment of your own play. Instead, after a game, take a break, come back to the game and see what worked and what did not. Instead of rehearsing our mistakes, we should recognise them, blot them out and try something new.

It takes fortitude to become a good chess player and, while we rely on technology to stay connected now more than ever, if a pandemic has done nothing to quell the interest in the game then I think the future of chess is bright. So, keep practicing.

Chess has been around for a while and it is here to stay. If you’re looking for a partner to play with, reach out to friends. If you want to go through the ropes with a teacher, check out our tuition service. And last but far from least, check out Chess.com or other, more local online chess communities, they’re probably doing rather well at the moment!


To combat impulsive play, I recommend purchasing the book called “Ticks and Triangles” from the website; for strategy, “Logical Chess Move by Move” is ideal.  Internet play on its own does not produce improvement.  Without study it feeds an addiction to excitement, or habituates mistakes. 

Mike Basman

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