Why is chess a sport? For quite some time, this has been a subject that has sparked debate due to the fact that it’s not the type of game that makes you break a sweat. Chess has been around for ages, tracing its roots back to ancient India. But the thing is, chess isn’t just a casual pastime—it’s a legitimate sport!
It has a set of rules and etiquette, just like any other sport out there. In fact, the International Olympic Committee considers chess an official sport. That said, it solidifies its position as a genuine competitive activity.
So, why is chess a sport? Let’s dive into the reasons.
Why Is Chess a Sport?: The Elements of a Sport
Okay, let’s break it down. What makes a game a sport, really?
Sports are basically competitive activities that require some physical effort and skill. Other sports, however, focus on mental ability, like chess or e-sports.
Here are some criteria that justify why chess is a sport:
- Chess requires pre-physical activity
- Chess is competitive in nature
- Chess requires skill and strategy
- Chess has officials and governing bodies
- Chess exhibits good sportsmanship
1. Chess Requires Pre-Physical Activity
We’re talking about how much energy and effort it takes to play here. Still, it’s not the only factor determining whether a game is considered a sport.
While some sports require significant physical exertion, others focus on mental agility and critical thinking. Chess falls into this latter category.
Elite chess players don’t need athleticism. But excellent physical shape is crucial, as matches can last up to 9 hours. The act of sitting up in a chair for hours burns more calories than you could imagine. You burn 60 to 130 calories an hour just by sitting. If you take into account the amount of hours spent sitting at a chess board, then you could be easily burning over 200 calories.
Professional players must stay in good physical condition in order to compete at the highest level. Players like Magnus Carlsen keeps in shape by playing football and swimming. Physical activity is needed for blood to circulate in the head, which plays an important role in concentrating over the board.
2. Chess is Competitive in Nature
Competition is a fundamental aspect of sports, and chess is no exception. Professional players take the game of chess seriously that even a loss can cause emotional damage for days.
In chess tournaments, players are often matched against opponents with similar skill levels/elo rating. Tournaments are usually divided into beginner, intermediate and absolute section. The stronger players usually compete in absolute section, whereas players under 1700 elo can compete in the intermediate section.
Women also get their own category. This protocol helps to ensure that the games are fair and competitive. Nevertheless, all players have the option on whether they wish to compete in the absolute section or not. But a 2000 elo player cannot compete in an intermediate tournament as that would be unfair.
Tournaments may consist of several rounds. Usually the player with the most points at the end of all the rounds win the tournament, unless there is a tie break. Armagedon usually decides the winner of the tie break. This is a single game guaranteed to produce a result, because Black has draw odds (that is, for Black, a draw is equal to a victory).
To compensate, White has more time on the clock. Common times are 6 minutes for white and 5 for black, or 5 minutes for white and 4 for black. This type of format makes chess even more competitve and exciting just like any other sports.
3. Chess Requires Skill and Strategy
Chess requires a specific skill set and strategy to succeed just like any other sports such as basketball, golf, or football. Chess is widely considered a strategy game because players have to make wise choices and plan ahead to win.
Players must carefully study the board, analyze their opponent’s moves, and calculate lines up to 10 moves deep if the position requires it. Just like chess, many sports require players to deploy an effective strategy to gain the upper hand. For example, if you played American football, you know that there are different strategies such as run and shoot offense, smashmouth offense, air coryell, spread offense etc.
Or, if you played basketball, there are strategies like shooting bigs, mismatch, small ball, dribble penetration and hero ball.
When it comes to chess however, some of the main strategies are playing in the center, developing your pieces to their most active squares, castle your king to safety, among many other strategies. To learn more about the different strategies of chess, see article: 10 Effective Winning Chess Strategies
4. Chess Has Officials and Governing Bodies
Sports have a whole system of people and organizations that help keep things fair and organized. Officials like referees, umpires, and judges are there to make sure everyone follows the rules and plays the game fairly.
The International Chess Federation (FIDE) is the governing body that oversees all international chess competitions. Tournament directors and arbiters are the 2 main officials responsible for organizing and managing a tournament.
Chess arbiters can be divided into FIDE Arbiter (FA) and International Arbiter (IA). They oversee matches and ensures that the rules of chess are followed. Tournament directors on the other hand are responsible for organizing elimination tournament brackets, or pairings of a Swiss system tournament, tracking scores and statistics, and also enforcing rules and regulations.
5. Chess Exhibits Good Sportsmanship
Did you know that chess players are encouraged to practice good sportsmanship? It’s a big part of the game! When players sit down to play a chess game, they start by shaking hands with their opponent. This is mandatory before starting the match.
It’s also always nice to wish them good luck before the game, although it is not required. Minor lapses in etiquette can have a consequence. For example, a grandmaster named Ivan Cheparinov was once disqualified for refusing to shake his opponent’s hand.
Players also shake hands at the end of the game. They may shake hands to agree to a draw, or to accept their defeat. It’s important that you clearly communicate to your opponent before shaking hands.
You probably think that your opponent stretched out his hands as a gesture of resignation, when in fact he’s offering you a draw. Make sure this doesn’t reach you or it could escalate.
Beyond the Board: Chess in Competitive Settings
With millions of players worldwide, chess is one of the oldest games out there. Let’s delve deeper into the competitive world of chess, shall we?
Chess Tournaments and Championship
Chess tournaments and championships are the ultimate tests for players looking to showcase their skills and compete against other top players.
The national or international chess committee arranges these events, drawing in participants from all over the world. FIDE which is the international governing body of chess hosts several tournaments around the world such as the World Chess Championship, Chess olympiad, Junior championships among many other major events.
Setups of these tournaments may vary. However, most involve multiple rounds where players must compete to gain the most points at the end of the tournament. 14 rounds is usually the maximum number of matches played in a single tournament.
The Chess Olympiad
Even though chess isn’t as physically demanding as other sports, its mental and strategic nature has earned it a spot in the Olympic Games. The International Olympic Committee has recognized it as an official sport since 1999.
Chess was just once an exhibition sport at the 2000 Summer Olympic Games. Fun fact: The 45th Chess Olympiad is happening in 2024 in Budapest! An enthusiast will agree that this is a deal worth watching an eye on.
The Rise of Chess in E-sports
The growth of e-sports has opened up new opportunities for chess players to compete and showcase their skills. Online chess platforms like Chess.com and Lichess have allowed players to compete against each other from anywhere in the world.
These platforms offer various tournaments and events for players of different skill levels. Players will find it easier to find suitable opponents as well. Additionally, chess has been included in multiple esports competitions, with players competing for a cash prize and recognition.
Fascinating Facts About the Game of Chess
Here are some fun chess trivia that’ll astound you:
An Ancient Indian Board Game
Chess was initially known as chaturanga, a Sanskrit word that means “four divisions.”
Chaturanga was an ancient Indian board game that’s considered to be the earliest form of chess. It used four distinct types of pieces: soldier, elephant, horse, and chariot.
The Longest Match
The longest chess game ever played concluded in a draw after 269 moves. The match was contested in 1989 in Belgrade, Serbia, between Ivan Nikolic and Goran Arsovic. It took 20 hours to finish and is one of history’s most epic chess games.
The First Chess Computer
Alan Turing, a British mathematician, created the first chess computer algorithm in 1951. The Turing test program played a simplified version of chess.
Computers can now beat even the most intelligent human chess players. Furthermore, these players depend on computers to analyze their skills and improve their performance.
Wrapping It Up
Alright! Why is chess a sport? Well, it may not be physically demanding, but it certainly meets the criteria of what constitutes a sport.
The growth of online platforms and e-sports competitions has also expanded the opportunities for players to compete. Overall, chess is a fascinating game with a rich history and a bright future in the world of sports.