65th Square: Why Chess?

If you are reading this story you are probably one of the millions who have an appreciation for the royal game of chess… or at least have some intrigue. If one stops to think about the game and sport, perhaps a common question has arisen, “Why Chess?” “Why have I decided to spend so much time in chess when I could have chosen between so many activities?” That’s a fair question.

Of course if you ask a young player, their reasons may differ a bit more from the adults, but there is still this timeless intrigue of chess that captures masses across so many different socioeconomic lines. Chess constitutes a world into itself. A world of imagination… a world of dreams… a world of adventure. Perhaps this is the type of world we envision for ourselves in reality, but in chess we find that we have greater control in creating it.

Chess is an alternate world, an inner world… a world of the self. Each game of chess is a story. We can tell a different story each day and even though we can play the same exact game twice, no two games are the same. The emotion, the feelings, the self-introspection, the thoughts… all give us a feeling of moving toward a new challenge. It’s a constant battle to perfect the self… to survive… to win. For some, it is merely a way to compete.

It is interesting that when one goes to a famous chess park or a tournament, there is a parallel world with a hierarchy, a culture, a language and rules. It is in this world that you have your kings and queens and have your paupers. This status has little to do with one’s status in the real world since a Grandmaster can step outside of the chess world or tournament hall and walk onto the street and be lost in obscurity. Conversely, a brilliant executive or Nobel Laureate can step into a competitive chess world and be cast as a pauper. Perhaps it is this equal opportunity to succeed or the leveling of the social order that we enjoy. The ability to match wits with so many different types of individuals.

Visions from the 2008 Olympiad. Photos by Daaim Shabazz.


Of course there is the personal challenge since in chess we are not merely playing the opponent, we are playing against ourselves. Much of what is inside of us comes out when we play chess. Apart from this metaphysical challenge, we play chess for all the reasons we engage in other activities… enjoyment, sociology, challenge, expression, self-improvement.

Whatever the reason, we have all come to the conclusion that chess offers us something that we cannot readily find anywhere else in our lives. If someone asks, “Why Chess?” What would you say?


  1. My observation and experience is that chess is attractive to so many because it provides a level and objective framework for creative expression. You touched upon that point in your article.

    What has continually amazed me is the varying motifs through which different people express that creativity. For me, chess is like writing an adventure story, with each game, tournament and even series of tournaments analogous to paragraphs chapters and novels that you co-write with your opponents.

    I saw an article where some musicians, who were casual chess players, compared the game to composing music, with the challenge of melding structure plus improvisation. That was an unexpected perspective – but it makes sense if you think about it. And of course there are the typical comparisons to military and sports strategy.

  2. Dear Daaim:
    Here is a true story with the title “Why to teach chess?”. It’s in Spanish and rather poorly written. Nevertheless it tells about a chess teacher who meets a boy in jail and how through chess the boy changes his way of thinking and acting.
    I’m sure he has a very good answer for your question.

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