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drgandalf 20 ( +1 | -1 )
Is competitive chess destructive?
On another post, I asked if chess as sport is destructive, but the subsequent messages turned to the question of whether chess IS a sport. The question is whether chess is destructive when played competitively.

buddy2 31 ( +1 | -1 )
Destructive Of course it's destructive--to the loser, mentally and sometimes physically--the way all competitions are. The more you win, the more it reinforces your ego and feel like your "getting sometwhere." In reality, you're just pushing little pieces of wood on 64 squares. "Mental masturbation," I think Fischer is quoted as saying in his latter days.
mattafort 48 ( +1 | -1 )
Can be - but not necessary It can be destructive, if you put TOO MUCH importance
to this game. After all it is only a game.
In perspective there are many things with greater importance in life.
It can be healthy in that it give that tension,
that excitement, which makes one feel alive.
Without anything exciting, life would be a boring thing.

Some get that thrill by putting money at the bookmakers.
Chess is a whole lot better.
At least that is what I think.
atrifix 27 ( +1 | -1 )
Are you ever getting anywhere? You could win the Super Bowl, but in reality, you're just running back and forth with a ball. Or you could develop the theory of relativity, which really isn't much more than writing a bunch of numbers on a sheet of paper..
More: Chess
bogg 37 ( +1 | -1 )
A destructive activity can be almost anything taken to the extreme! Chess players seem to be more susceptive to this than most as so much of their ego is tied up in the game. How many of you have uttered the words 'I am killing him'? I have heard of a player that committed suicide after losing a game at a US Open, if true, he definitely took Chess too a destructive level!
bigkev 23 ( +1 | -1 )
What do you mean? drgandalf

What do you mean by destructive? To the game of chess as a whole. To the player who wins or loses?

Is only competitive chess destructive but social games aren't?

Can you please expand on your question as it sounds interesting.
More: Chess
olympio 9 ( +1 | -1 )
atrifix sorry but i think developing a theory is the opposite of this. it's an accomplishment that is in no way trivial.
anaxagoras 32 ( +1 | -1 )
A lot of chess players should be able to think of other aspects of their lives where they are competitive. There are, however, some who feel that it's exactly the competitive aspect of chess that shouldn't be there. Whether you think chess is "destructive" has a lot to do with where you fall above.
atrifix 5 ( +1 | -1 )
olympio I don't want to get too far off topic, but what have you accomplished?
drgandalf 204 ( +1 | -1 )
bigkev I believe the contributions to this thread are very profound. However, I would expand on the question, if you feel it necessary.

Social chess, in my experience, in which one plays WITH another player, is very enjoyable, if the two are fairly evenly matched (within 200 rating points). In my rating-affected games, I still play socially, as if both players together are trying to play a great game. It always pleases me to play well, regardless of the outcome. When I play poorly, even a win does not satisfy.

By contrast, in OTB tournament chess, I find many, many who have lost a game to me simply withdraw socially and colleagially. Such behaviour is more than unfortunate. It is destructive. It sets the outcome as the sole criterion for social worth.

To me, the other player, in the role as temporary chess opponent, is still a worthy person. In fact, that we played a competitive game should bring us socially closer together.

The problem of being too competitive is that we depersonalize the other guy. In fact, we succeed more by belittling him in our eyes, during the game and afterwards. We participate in a culture of contempt, which imbues our lives generally. Such comtempt is the initial element for bullying.

If the chessboard were considered like a slab of marble, and the two players as sculptures who simultaneously carve out their joint masterpiece, we would still see the superior artist at work, yet there would be no threat to the other artist.

When winning is ego-oriented, as opposed to mastery of one's own skills, then losing can easily be traumatic, unpleasant to the point of quitting the chess experience. This culture of contempt is unnecessary and destructive.

In a community of fellow social artists, there would be no disincentive to play and lose. The player hones his skills with each encounter, perfecting his technique, AND TRANFERRING THE WISDOM OF CHESS TO OTHER ASPECTS OF LIFE.

These are my views in depth. Those who agree with them should e-mail me for further talks. Thank you for the participation on this thread.
anaxagoras 39 ( +1 | -1 )
drgandalf Just a couple things:

What is the difference between ego-orientation and the goal of mastery of one's own skills? It would seem that the latter is just an instance of the former (namely, yourself!).

I'd also like to know how to transfer the wisdom of chess to the other aspects of life. In my experience, people who say we affirm values in chess are projecting the values they were brought up with.
brankort 36 ( +1 | -1 )
anaxagoras i can't speak for drgandalf but in my opinion mastering of one's own skills does not reflect on ego-orientation(perhaps self-worth would be more precise a term). An aspect of self is enhanced(chess ability) but that doesn't translate to the total self. Those that rate themselves according to their latest performance best win every time:))
drgandalf 83 ( +1 | -1 )
anaxagoras You asked two important questions. I will provide my experience and beliefs on both of them.

Mastery of a skill involves submission to the "way" of the skill, in the Chinese meaning of the term. It subordinates the ego to become part of the eternal flow. This means that each chesser who approaches chess this way becomes part of the "whole" of all chessers, past and future, attempting the same search for the mystery and wisdom of chess through the experience of chess.

By contrast, ego-orientation places the chesser above chess, in a position to dominate. He may master certain technical skills, and learn much faster than through submission, but he eventually sacrifices depth in the experience of chess, relegating that experience to personal prowess. The other player is merely an opponent or a fish to get rid of off the board with a quick win and a rating boost.

drgandalf 155 ( +1 | -1 )
Transferability of chess wisdom does not come from the technical side of chess. As with any discipline, one may approach it technically or liberally. Technically, there is no equivalent to "the exchange" or en passant.

It is my experience that most chessers, even masters, fail to understand that in most interpersonal transactions or encounters there is a move and countermove dynamic, or a ply (half move) and reply. Instead, they blithely make some outrageous political or social move without considering the potential reponses.

If chess were encountered liberally, with the IDEA OF TRANSFERABILITY always on one's mind, then one goes into interpersonal situations, knowing there are consequences.

So long as a chesser holds his opponent in contempt, he will likely hold others in non-chess life also in contempt. I have witnessed this continually, as the social bully tries to take advantage of those weaker. However, a liberally trained chesser realizes such contempt easily backfires. What may work for the bully in the school house has traumatic consequences before the courts, civil and criminal.

It is my experience that my capacity to expect responses and to entrap those who choose to be my opponent has increased greatly through my study and practice of chess.

As long as I treat the other player in a super-personal way, my chessic skills continue to rise over time and my super-personal interactions with others improve also.

I hope this gives you some idea of my thoughts, which are only my own, and not shared by more than a few.
winslow_hendershot 179 ( +1 | -1 )
Fascinating Thread I think competitive chess both is and is not destructive. But then, everything always depends, it seems.

Even though this is a chess thread, I couldn't help but think of the closed forums when I read this. It seems to me that when they were still open, many of the individuals were acting under the so-called "ego orientation" when relating to others. It turned out to be very destructive, as certain people were only interested in putting their opponents of debate into submission, regardless of whether their views were correct or not.

DrG writes:
"The problem of being too competitive is that we depersonalize the other guy. In fact, we succeed more by belittling him in our eyes, during the game and afterwards. We participate in a culture of contempt, which imbues our lives generally. Such comtempt is the initial element for bullying. "

I think that was beautifully put. And it makes a strong point for competitive chess being destructive. But it is also been my experience that competition can engender strong bonds of friendship as well. I had a very fierce chess competition with a good friend, and it only strengthened our friendship. I also made a friend at the last chess tournament I went to. After the round we had a couple of drinks together at the bar and did a post-mortem. There were no hard feelings whatsoever, even though as we sat across the board it was as tense as any competition I had ever been in.

I guess it always depends. And the thing it depends on, is each of us. Pawntificator told me he and DrG had some heated debates in the social forums about this or that, and now they continue their discussions in private games, and actually get along rather well.

But then, someone said Kasparov refers to his opponents as "IT" instead of him or her. That can't be constructive.
anaxagoras 98 ( +1 | -1 )
Good replies DrG, your allusion to chinese philosophy makes more clear how you can see mastery of one's chess skills to be a non-ego-oriented activity. To the chagrin of my friends, I sometimes say I "discovered" a move or combination, not that I "made" it or "came up with it." Now the tricky thing is not to pursue this "egolessness" in chess as part of a project of ego-fulfillment, e.g. "look at how great I am because I don't pursue my own ego when I play chess."

As for transferability of chess wisdom, I admit that I'm not quite convinced that what I can transfer from chess is not something I already brought to it.

We are dealing with two distinct ideals, two distinct chess 'moralities.' As an *observer* of chess players and other intellectual types, I notice that the weaker individuals value harmony and respect among their competitors, while the strongest do hold everyone in contempt, e.g. Kasparov, Fischer... compare to titans like Plato and Wittgenstein... all elitists in the purest sense. I haven't yet seen a champion who didn't enjoy crushing the competition.
anaxagoras 6 ( +1 | -1 )
another question: in what way is "destructive" supposed to be a bad thing?
victord 24 ( +1 | -1 )
wrong question ... Heck! Water is destructive if you try to drink 100 liters.
The question should be:

Is chess destroying you? or
Can chess destroy you? or
Will chess destroy you? or
When will chess destroy you? or
If it don't hurt when you lose, are you playing high enough?
winslow_hendershot 51 ( +1 | -1 )
I'm not playing high enough, I can definitely tell you that much.

I think chess can destroy a person. Well, maybe not destroy, but it can consume a person. It's consuming me, but I don't mind. I'm addicted to chess and I love it! I'm a chessaholic and I dont' want to quit, and you can't make me! Well, Mike could make me quit playing chess here, but he'll have to come take away my board and all my books, and all the games in my head, and...really the only thing that can stop me is death. And I'm betting they have chess after life.
drgandalf 301 ( +1 | -1 )
In reply Winslow:

I have made many friends and enjoy close bonds with players OTB and on GK, particularly if I hold my own against a much stronger player. These usually are persons who find chess as an expression of chess mastery, rather than an opportunity, or a compulsion, to crush the other guy.

However, the predominant culture is set by the World Champion, FIDE, and USCF. When Kasparov states that his opponent is an "IT", this premeates down through all levels of chess. When FIDE is considered corrupt, so much so that world contenders in the recent past boycotted the World Championship, when USCF is more concerned with hero worship, rather than sagacity in its top level players, then there is every incentive to deepen the culture of contempt.

Whether this is due to the very nature of chess, or whether it is due to the incredibly crass leadership of chess today, is the real question.


That you "discover" a combination signals that you respect that the position has an inner truth not of your making, assessible to all who encounter that position. This discovery is not "egoless" in the Martin Luther sense, but rather super-personal, going beyond the individual, and consequently beyond the delights of EGOTISM.

Your ego is definitely involved each time YOU discover the truth of the position. However, it does not rise to the level of egotism, just as discovering that three non-linear points always create a triangle. The eureka is an acceptance that you are now initiated into the secret, rather than the brazen illusion that you are godlike in creating something unique.

As for transferability, you keenly observe that each individual player BRINGS INTO CHESS his own attitude. Nevertheless, the chess culture favors certain attitudes and ignores others. If there were worldwide condemnation of bad manners, public announcements of destructive attitudes, and poor sportsmanship, then no matter how the world class players chose to treat each other would affect the chess culture. Their attitudes, muted by great administrative leadership, would be dismissed as aberrant.

In essense, you are correct in your observation that I desire the choice of harmony and respect over the culture of contempt.

As for being elitist, I am so, and I hope all players are also. Chess is an elite experience, no matter how many play it, even if everyone played it. Chess is a classical art, engaged in by the elite of heart, whether the player be a beggar or a prince, with below average intelligence or a genius. The mere activity of playing well, to one's current mastery level, is elitist. Like watching Shakespeare or reading Plato, engaging in chess ennobles the person, while watching cops and robbers or some silly sitcom, reading gossip columns, or bullying those considered weaker or eccentric, are vulgar in nature.

Is the chess experience noble enough to withstand the vulgarization of the top players? I am deeply concerned about this question.
winslow_hendershot 61 ( +1 | -1 )
Act I, Scene I Fade in: Winslow writes a meager preamble in order to hopefully justify his off topic post.

Winslow: What I miss most about the social chat forums is that I can't say something like this: I like DrGandalf because he really COULD be Gandalf from middle earth, with his wise and eloquent speech.

Webmaster: You know that is an off topic post. I could ban you right now, and there is nothing you can do!

Winslow: Yes, I know. Sorry.

Webmaster: It's ok. This time. But watch yourself!

Winslow: Yay! Thank you thank you thank you!!!

Don't worry, DrGandalf. Nothing can corrupt chess!
white_disc 134 ( +1 | -1 )
There was once I played a friendly tennis match with a friend who was highly competitive in nature, and he won me.

After the match, he began all the talk about me being a lousy player, both to me and to other friends.

I think such behaviour is not uncommon in chess, or other games.

I have met with fellow chess friends who are much better than me, and they would rather gobble up all my pieces, queen several queens, put me down terribly, and have a good laugh (with other friends) about how pathetic I am.

And I have heard plenty of rumblings and unhappiness among mutual friends over OTB tournament losses when playing each other.

I guess all these incidences, together with other bullying incidences happening all around us, they do in fact strengthen our desire to crush others. And of course to avoid situations where our past failures and defeats would turn against us.

There is always a chance that the other party, who have won you before, will use that particular defeat to put you down in future.

Many, taking that in mind, withdraw socially. Whatz the point of being put down ?

In that sense, I can empathise with those who lost and opted out socially, cutting down contact.

Sad, but thatz the destructive nature of chess.
shai 12 ( +1 | -1 )
oh so you play tennis
well so do i
i never lost however
anyway tennis is the most competitive sport there is
bluebabygirl 55 ( +1 | -1 )
SHAI - SORRY BUT CHESS IS THE MOST COMPETITIVE THING ON EARTH . ITS MIND AGAINST MIND . TAKE NO PRISONERS AND DOWN WITH THE KING . just my everyday opinion of chess. No matter how violent the action on the chessboard ,the satisfaction of competing and winning is still great.And if , just if you can create a game that is very artistic -then its absolutely grand . How do I know this ,because i have read and enjoyed masterpieces by Rubinstein and Capablanca and so many more .- yours bluebabygirl. p.s. i play tennis too and i have certainly lost there too.
anaxagoras 67 ( +1 | -1 )
Very well said drgandalf. I agree that chess should be mentioned in the same breath as Shakespeare and Plato. Chess has a character of "depth" that only belongs to philosophy, the theoretical sciences, and great litterature.

"Chess is an elite experience, no matter how many play it, even if everyone played it."

A Plato or Nietzsche would disagree here. What makes noble or brings truth must of *necessity* have a bad taste for the majority. I see myself and other amateurs as participating in the dimmest aura of the brilliant light of reason that is chess; while the greats, the fischers and kasparovs, are *right* for thumbing their noses at us.
ir0nh0rse 13 ( +1 | -1 )
... competition is only destructive in the wrong frame of mind. I learn more from a loss and i am quite happy with one.
drgandalf 64 ( +1 | -1 )
anaxagoras You stated, "A Plato or Nietzsche would disagree here. What makes noble or brings truth must of *necessity* have a bad taste for the majority."

I agree with you on this point. Thank you for correcting my naievite in trying to democratise what is noble.

Perhaps that is why chess in USA is considered both at the same time escoteric and contemptible. When each person's opinion is considered of equal value and weight, experiences of chess, in proving that sentiment wrong, must by necessity bring out the hostility of those who will not nobly submit to the grace of the experience.

So, thank you for the correction.


Dr. Gandalf