Game Review – Chess

You may or may not have noticed, but gamobo stands for games, movies, and books. While the last two are reviewed more frequently, I am a gamer as well. The problem is that there just isn’t enough time to play them all, and as time passes it becomes more difficult to find something I haven’t played before. Nevertheless, I wanted to review a different kind of game today, a game that is different almost every single time you play, and that game is chess.

I forget how I was introduced to the game, but I remember playing it as a kid at school, and thinking it was too complicated to be interesting. Fast forward a bit and I was playing for fun again in high school. What appealed to me then was how the game relied on wit and strategy to achieve victory. These days I play for fun, as a way of spending time with friends and playing online at chess.com to keep my game sharp. From all of my time playing I have come to appreciate chess as a game of subtle charms, and I wanted to talk about these elements today. We will consider what makes chess such an intriguing game, including its mechanics and possible reasons for its universal appeal.

161116-horse-sacrifice-in-beginning
Not so shameful plug: a recent game I had that I thought was particularly brilliant (by 1200-rating standards).

Mechanics

The goal of chess is to capture your opponent’s King piece. With respect to this goal all other pieces are expendable, though you would do well to utilize every single one of them. The act of placing a piece to capture the King, while preventing any possible escape or block, is called checkmate, and therein the glorious cup of triumph may be drank from.

I won’t talk about the rules specifically (how every piece moves) nor will I go in-depth on strategy. But I do want to discuss briefly the tactical brilliance of chess’ win condition. You must always move a piece in order to achieve checkmate; while this may sound trivial, I believe having an active move as a requirement for winning makes it all the more satisfying. Opponent resignation is rarely as satisfying as catching them completely off-guard.

In the second place, it is not only the act of putting your opponent in check that counts. To get the “mate” you must also have taken steps to stop the King from moving to a safe square, or having another piece block your attack. A requirement of checkmate, then, usually involves calculated planning, which is also more satisfying then simple brute force. You can win not only by a single action, but by a culmination of strategic positioning, planning, and effort. It’s almost like standing back and looking at a house you’ve painted or a fence you’ve built; something that some even consider a work of art.

The Other Beautiful Game

The beauty of chess begins with its founding. Thought to have originated in India in the sixth or seventh century, it spread across the world in both directions, eventually touching the Atlantic when it reached Spain, where the last pieces adopted the movements we play with today. Chess is enjoyed all over the world today, but there is something inspiring and romantic about the idea that it was created by different nations over a span of different eras, making chess one of those few things that can be said to belong to everyone.

In the second place, chess is a game of wit. Board games (that don’t involve cards) have the peculiar charm of being completely open for both sides; that is, you can always see what your opponent is doing. This creates a situation where you not only have to worry about conducting a sound attack, but also consider how your opponent can potentially attack you. In Crazy Eights you only worry about your cards and react to what’s been played immediately before your turn. In video games you can only rely on your reaction time and reflexes. In chess, however, you need to be able to foresee potential, consider openings created by progression, and determine the value of sacrificing. All of these things come together to produce a game that demands intricate planning and creative thinking. This is most evident when looking at famous games and how checkmate was achieved.

The Immortal Game. White is about to be down a Queen, two Rooks, and a Bishop, but is also about to win.
The Immortal Game (Anderssen-Kieseritzky). White is about to be down a Queen, two Rooks, and a Bishop, but is also about to win.

Chess is a game where player expression is constantly present, yet subtle. I’m the aggressive type, though I don’t like kicking down the front door. The victories I tend to be most proud of involve luring my opponent in one direction while flanking or looping around them. Diversion and distraction via constant pressure, followed by unexpected infiltration. But one of the beautiful things about chess is that you don’t have to play any single specific way to win. Other players like to play defensively, guiding their opponents into mistakes, while others sacrifice and charge in to create openings. The open nature of chess allows players to project their personalities on the board, and this expression of style is part of what makes chess intimate and engaging.

Finally, the materials of chess are aesthetically pleasing as well. The chess set has long been regarded as a prop representing elegance and sophistication: a gentleman’s game and a more civilized way to settle our innate desire for competition. The chess pieces themselves are simple (Staunton standard designs, I mean), and their functions are also determined by the colour of the square in which they reside at the beginning of the game, making the board itself both visually and practically relevant. Many places produce gorgeous-looking chess sets, and there is a healthy variety of material to choose from. I bought my chess set from Cool Chess Canada almost immediately when I saw it:

I am not ashamed to admit I drooled a bit when I saw it.
I am not ashamed to admit I drooled a bit when I saw it.

Beauty in Simplicity

Whether you’re a beginner or a master, one can always appreciate the beauty of chess. It is simple enough for anyone to learn, yet complicated enough to always learn from. The convenient thing about chess is that you always see the mistake that led to your defeat, and preparing for the next game is usually a simple matter of remembering that mistake. Theoretically one can always improve by examining one’s past self, and you gotta give credit to a game that adopts one of life’s more inspiring maxims.

I’d highly recommend picking the game up, whether you’ve never touched a pawn before or whether you only played in your youth. It’s intellectually stimulating and highly rewarding when victory is achieved. Plus it’s always free to play, provided you have an Internet connection, and it is a game that foregoes any advantage based on race, gender, and age. Chess is one of those few games that provides timeless fun and a steady challenge.

This has been a gamobo review. Thanks for reading.

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