The Emotions of Chess

Disclaimer : I’m not an expert at chess and while I play it religiously I’m barely above average. Feel free to argue in the comments 😉

Chess is an emotional game that seems to thrive through a PR team that stresses on objectivity and calculation. While computers have already proven themselves more superior at chess to humans by beating Grandmasters, the possibility of a human winning against the current reigning computer exists simply because it is difficult for the computer to understand the concept of a ‘threat’.

A ‘threat’ in chess alludes to a move that is designed to threaten any piece on the board without it actually happening (I have tailored the definition a little bit for the purposes of this post, +1000 creativity points). It might seem like a good or bad move depending on what the person issuing that threat wants to achieve – a defensive move by the opponent that would not have taken place if the threat hadn’t, a move designed to move a piece around so that an exchange can take place which might give the player an advantage etc. A threat by definition is not the best possible move at a given point – which is why computers never make it. It might even be a bad move and not actually help achieve anything – something that confuses a machine. A computer plays the long game, putting its pieces in key positions and avoiding exchanges as much as possible so that it has the best possible outcome – capturing the king. Humans however, are capable of what the dictionary eloquently describes as a dick move.

Bamboozling the opponent is part of the fun of playing chess, and I find myself giving into my baser instincts while playing. Issuing threats, stubbornly moving my pawns just because there’s a chance they will reach the end of the board without the opponent noticing, taking out the opponent’s Queen in the beginning of the game even though it means sacrificing my own (the dickest of all moves in my opinion) , preventing castling by the opponent (which puts the King in a safe spot) even though it means losing a powerful piece. The Queen is the most powerful piece on the board. My enemy must not have that kind of power, we both have to be paupers in this fight, dragging it down in the mud as the rooks fight to gain control near the end.

Personalities come out in full form during a chess game with varied degrees of aggression. A lot of people spend some time in the beginning setting up their key pieces without any threats or sacrifices. A lot of other people (let’s call them n00bs) bring out their Queen near the beginning of the game just for shits and giggles, often rendering her meaningless. It’s not good to bring out the Queen quickly unless you’re an extremely experienced player, since almost all the opponent’s pieces can come out and threaten her. Then there are more balanced players who might issue a threat or two but tend to make logical moves and exchanges, often castling as soon as possible and using their pawns wisely. Then there are what I call in my head the “specialists” – they use their knights/bishops/rooks with unmatched expertise, positioning these pieces in combination for a bloodbath and not really caring about the rest. I tend to leave my pawns out in the cold and exposed after a certain point in the game, which is terrible but it’s difficult to care about them when there are bigger fish to fry (a wrong attitude). This probably explains my barely above average player rating.

Chess is probably the most emotionally taxing game I have played, because it’s about power and mental computation skills. Most sports are about physical strength/stamina in combination with skill. The dynamic in chess seems to be based on actual war, and I despise the sinking feeling when I’ve mentally taxed myself for so long in order to win but somehow my King is fucked because of a single bad move. Domination can occur in a lot of forms and chess is an attempt at domination with every move.

All the safeguards that are put up invariably come down as the game proceeds. Stability and security are thrown to the wolves in a single move, regret and strife consume you as you struggle to (literally) pick up the pieces. Opening moves must be analysed and modified according to the opponent, the knight must die for the opponent’s bishop. The heavens themselves open up and rain destruction when consecutive sacrifices have to be made in order to secure the upper hand. Sweat, blood and tears flow without relief as new possibilities must be leveraged in order to win but your arm is cramping up because you’ve been in the same position for an hour. Remember, hydration is key. And eat something, it’s not the end of the world.

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