Chess Perceptions

Have you ever gave any thought to how the general public perceive chess?

When in your workplace or even worse in a large social group, and you're asked what you do for fun, do you admit you're a chess player? Do you proclaim it loud and proud, with your chest out and head held high? Or do you meekly mumble and barely acknowledge you have a passing interest in it?  Upon hearing this surprising news, do your colleagues who had previously respected you all of a sudden give you a wide berth'? Has the 'street cred' you've carefully manipulated by keeping your chess playing deviancy quiet vanished in one fell swoop?

In my chosen vocation I work with many hairy arsed builder types. As some of you will know, building sites are notorious places for having a wicked, some may say even cruel sense of humour. Any sign of weakness, or in our case 'geekness' is pounced upon and mercilessly abused. I though, have absolutely no shame, and tell every one that I play chess! As I have garnered no respect from any one in the first place, I have nothing to lose!

I've often thought about this question of how we and chess is perceived, if for example you could drag Joe Public in off the street and place him/her slap bang in the middle of a tournament hall or even better the analysis room how would they react to that culture shock scenario?

They'd be thrust into a world where strange/peculiar people are discussing pins, forks, skewers, tempos, zugzwang, positions, x-ray attacks, perpetual checks, fianchettoed bishops (oh er missus!) and many more mystical and odd things. It would seem as if some kind of chess degree is required to understand what the hell they are talking about. Its another reason chess is viewed as an elitist game, it is generally thought that extra high intelligence is a prerequisite to be a successful player, now then, I'm hardly a rocket scientist and I can hold my own (*snigger*) against most players. While its true that retards don't particularly shine at chess, but by their very nature dummies tend to be poor at most things!

In my humblest opinion, our great game (or is it officially a sport now?) is perceived quite negatively. It could be argued that its not a team game and therefore would not attract the same vehement support a club team would get. But many if not the majority of sports are contested between single players, for example Tennis, Snooker, and Darts, they have no problems with publicity.

Perhaps its the relative lack of success British players have had recently, not since the 1993 World Championship match between Kasparov and England's Nigel Short have we seen any kind of regular chess on television. It was that match which finally gave me the push/impetus to get off my arse and go to a chess club. If we had another British 'contender' for the crown right now, would the game be attracting many more players? I'd say most definitely yes! Unfortunately at the present time we don't have one, so we must look towards commercial broadcasters like SKY TV as an outlet for some badly needed and more importantly POSITIVE publicity.

Chess needs to be on TV to have any hope of a rise in profile and kudos. Unfortunately the TV audience needs and indeed craves instant satisfaction. In its tournament format of say 40 moves in 2 hours chess for the untrained eye of the TV masses is simply not a spectator sport. It is too slow, did any of you see the 'crowds' at the recent World Cup Knock Out? It consisted of arbiters and a few seconds to the players! If regular players don't bother watching a "world" event, what hope is there of Joe Public wanting to?

For now at least, Blitz and Rapidplay could work on television, with a knowledgeable commentator describing what's going on and what the players may be planning. This way the impatient public would be less likely to change channels to Dancing on Ice or Celebrity some crap or other, and actually watch a game from start to finish. With an enthusiastic commentator hyping up the action, you never know it might just rub off on one or two watching!

Nowadays, satellite television caters for just about anything you can think of, I mean come on, if  they can air chuffing Poker, and some hobby show where an overweight man is sticking buttons on a piece of card, surely a small midnight slot could be filled with chess? Costs could be covered through advertising the plethora of chess products available and such like.

Possibly the greatest boon for chess would be its introduction to the school curriculum. It would be a sure fire way of promoting the game and giving it to the masses, which in turn would blow away the mystery surrounding chess and why its been misunderstood in the past. It would guarantee the next generation of kids has a healthy understanding of the game. It would also produce many Grandmasters of the future, but that's a whole new topic!

I think chess is wrongly perceived, as being very slow, boring, an old mans game, a game for geeks and anoraks. Nothing could be further from the truth, as we 'in the know' er... know. Its very much a young mans game as 17year old Norwegian Super GM Magnus Carlsen is proof. The uninitiated have never sat deep in thought for at least 4 hours and felt totally drained at the end of it. Old men haven't got that kind of stamina, not without the aid of a pill with a V on it anyway!

It may well be that chess will never become mainstream, destined to remain in the sporting wilderness, always classed as some mysterious, complicated, and misunderstood game played by equally quirky people. No doubt time (and money) will tell.