Tuesday, 12 January 2010

The most challenging and entertaining game ever invented

One of the tasks I've assigned myself this year (I hesitate to use the word "resolution", since according to this article in the The Guardian, New Year's resolutions are almost doomed to failure) is to improve my chess game.

I learned to play chess (or should I say, I learned the rules of chess) as a teenager, and have played casually on and off ever since, mostly against my brother Mark and more recently against my walking buddy Erik. But I never really thought much about things like tactics or strategy, and have never read a book about chess. So the other day on my way back from the doctor's I popped into my local library and picked more or less at random from the half a dozen or so chess books on the shelf a paperback called Pandolfini's Ultimate Guide to Chess.

It turns out to have been a pretty good choice. Although it starts with the fundamentals by explaining how each piece (sorry, "unit") moves, this book is really aimed at people like me who are familiar with the basics and have played a bit of chess but are ready to turn it up a notch. It's written in a casual style and is very easy to follow.

Although there are lots of diagrams in the book illustrating the various moves, I'm finding it helpful to have a chess set beside me as I read. One problem I was faced with was how to prevent our two cats jumping up and knocking the units over. I've gotten around this so far simply by keeping the cats out of the room while I'm reading, although one possible solution (a suggestion from my brother) would be to get one of these fancy vertical chess sets.

But is all this effort really worthwhile? Isn't chess just a waste of time, like watching TV (not The Wire, of course)? Shouldn't I be spending that time doing more important things? What will I gain from improving my chess game? Perhaps Pandolfini is right, and chess is "the most challenging and entertaining game ever invented", but it's still only a game, right?

(American Rust update: Things have gone from bad to worse for our two young protagonists. One is in prison, and the other is on the road somewhere between Pennsylvania and California, practically penniless after having been robbed by a fellow freight hopper.)


Mark said...

A game or a sport? Probably both.
Have you seen the movie Searching For Bob Fischer? There is a nice obituary for Bobby here:
They say he was more intelligent than Einstein. Must have been from playing chess!

Walking fool said...

A sport for the mind? I don't think I've seen Searching for Bobby Fischer. Pandolfini mentions it in his book, though. At the back there's a list of movies about chess.
How did you get that photo to appear?

Mark said...

The photo? When you signed up with Google, it was in the small print. "Older brothers will have an element of control."

Anonymous said...

I've just bought Sacha and Briar their first Chess board, so if you ever need a game I'm sure either one of them (especially Sacha) would oblige


Walking fool said...

Ok, as long as they're not child prodigies or anything. I'd hate to be beaten by a kid. Do you play?

Anonymous said...

I've probably got a higher opinion of my chess playing prowess that is actually the case, I haven't really played much for many a year.