The pandemic has reduced most professional sports to shadows of their former selves. But it’s done wonders for one game, maybe the last one you’d ever guess: chess.
“A boom is taking place in chess like we have never seen maybe since the Bobby Fischer days,” said chess grandmaster Maurice Ashley. “And it’s happening all because the pandemic has driven people indoors, and they’re looking for something incredible, constructive, educational to do.
For the most part, the mainstream media portrays chess as a worthy, honest game. A CNN article stated, “Chess is a game of intellect. Remember intellect? In a world where every news development seems more implausible than the last, there is something infinitely reassuring in retreating to a series about a cerebral game, in which (this is not spoiling anything, I think) nobody cheats.”
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Reverse the lockout?
Searching for Bobby FischerIn the 1993 film Searching for Bobby Fischer, at an in-person scholastic tournament, the parents accuse each other of cheating and then physically fight. The tournament directors lock the parents in a different area, away from the playing hall. The children cheer and continue their tournament games, playing honestly.
At national tournaments for kindergarten and first grade students, parents are not allowed in the playing hall. For older children’s games, parents may be in designated areas but not in the aisles between the boards. See the US Chess National Scholastic Chess Tournament Regulations. In contrast to these over-the-board regulations, perhaps parents should be with their children, and especially their very young children, during online chess tournaments.
According to National Master Jeff Ashton, owner of Panda Chess Academy, having parents nearby may be necessary for very young children, who cannot navigate technical glitches on their own. Recently, a six-year-old student of Ashton’s, left alone during a tournament, missed a round because he kept waiting for the game to start. He was scared to touch the screen because he wanted to follow all instructions to the letter. But he should have refreshed his browser to make the game begin. Parents can help by refreshing screens, reminding children to close all open tabs and avoid switching windows, turning off phones, contacting help desks, etc.
On the other hand, some chess parents can barely contain themselves during their children’s games, wanting to kibitz their suggested moves to their offspring. Just like the children in the Searching for Bobby Fischer playing hall, children competing online from home may hate for their parents to be in the room.
Yet, as children grow older, and improve at chess, they have more incentives and means to cheat. For example, an older child understands Stockfish’s decimal point evaluations. They may be tempted to use their knowledge to help them win. Winning feels good, and gaining rating points means admiration from parents and peers. Older children may also socialize in ways that leave them vulnerable to online predators, such as chatting, joining teams and groups, or using their real names.
Online chess seems like a perfect babysitter, but it’s not so simple.
According to Ashton, coaches should regularly discuss integrity and sportsmanship with children. Cheaters never win, winners never cheat, and other sayings about honesty might come off as corny but should be repeated to children before chess games.
Coaches and parents should also advise children to avoid multi-tasking. Phrase that advice in a positive way, that having a singular focus on a chess game is a great way to improve at chess. What it takes to be a good chess player, such as entering flow (deep concentration), also avoids cheating.