What's your favourite sport? Is it rugby or football? Swimming, cycling, Parkour? Is your fav sport chess?

Many people think that sport implies action. Only activities that involve moving about, exerting oneself, breaking a sweat and getting the heart rate up should qualify as a sport, according to them. That's a very narrow definition, indeed!

It's not exactly correct, either. Consider the origin of the word 'sport', from Old French: desport, meaning 'leisure'. The English imported that word around the 14th Century and expanded the definition to 'anything people find entertaining or amusing'.

That's how one can have a sporting time yet never venture within a mile of anything remotely athletic.

Collins dictionary defines 'sport' as any game, such as football or basketball and competitive leisure activity that requires both physical effort and skill.

Chess certainly has the 'skill' part nailed but how physical is sitting in a chair and moving chess pieces around? Let Superprof show you aspects of activities commonly called sport that also feature in chess.

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Sport Has a Code of Conduct

The phrase code of conduct is generally taken to mean the set of rules, norms and practices that individuals abide by. Your school or workplace likely has a code of conduct. Military personnel follow a code of conduct and so do civil servants.

Athletes also abide by a code of conduct: no cheating, good sportsmanship, respecting opponents, being a good role model, reject corruption in any form and maintain integrity, among others.

Chess players can just randomly touch chess pieces
Chess players are not allowed to touch any chess piece they don't intend to move. Photo by Michal Vrba on Unsplash

These behaviours are reinforced by rules. For instance, athletes are governed by a no-doping rule; they routinely undergo testing to make sure they haven't taken any performance-enhancing substances. If they're caught, the penalties can be severe, up to and including being banned from the sport and stripped of any prizes, medals and financial rewards they earned.

Naturally, they lose out on lucrative endorsements, too.

Chess players are also subject to rules, norms and practices. In tournaments, before and after each game, they are required to shake hands; failing to do so nets them a penalty. A player cannot simply walk away from a game in progress without saying anything, especially not if it's their move. And, they cannot touch any chess piece, their own or their opponent's, unless they're going to move it.

That one's called the touch-move rule.

Several high-profile cheating cases have made waves in the chess world. One instance saw a player repeatedly heading to the loo during their game; you might say he was phoning a friend to find out what move to make next. So, to prevent cheating, phones are not allowed during tournaments.

And, just like any other athlete, chess players lose out on endorsement deals when they're caught out.

Sport Is Mentally Intensive

Around the start of the new millennium, a new phrase cropped up: in the zone. Being in the zone means a state of hyper-concentration and focus, so much so that you are oblivious to everything else around you.

Soon, athletes were attributing their exceptional performance to being in the zone. Coaches urged their players to find the zone, get in the zone, you gotta be in the zone... In 2002, a book titled The Body Bears the Burden revealed that athletes feel the pain of injury only distantly because they are in the zone; nothing can get to them.

Athletes aren't the only players who find their place in the zone. Gamers often get in the zone; that's what allows them to play for hours on end without food, drink or bathroom breaks.

Every sport has a mental component. Athletes must constantly think of defence, offence and strategy but some games are admittedly more reactive than others. For instance, when a basketball player fakes an opponent out, the 'faked' player must react instinctively, they cannot pause the game to analyse their strategy.

Chess is nowhere near that physically reactive. In fact, chess is far more cerebral than physical, which makes it more mentally intensive than most physically strenuous sports.

Fun fact: the mental intensity of chess is why playing chess is considered an art.

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Palak
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Aravindan
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Sport Demands Physical Fitness

As pointed out above, sports, especially the more physically demanding ones require participants to be at least physically fit enough to practise it. Many sports require high levels of endurance and conditioning just to fully engage in them and, even for milder sports such as Nordic walking or aerobic dancing, you have to have a baseline of fitness to prevent injury.

Sitting to play doesn't mean that chess players don't have to be fit
Chess players may practise their sport while sitting down but they still have to be in peak physical condition. Photo by Chris Fuller on Unsplash

Chess players may sit to practise their sport but that doesn't mean they can forego their physical training.

For one, playing chess can be a test of endurance, especially during tournaments. Imagine the conditioning needed to engage all of your mental powers while sitting still for up to two hours at a time - and not necessarily in a comfortable chair, either.

Finally, consider that chess is a form of mindfulness. Chess players must be wholly present while playing; their minds can't afford to wander for a moment without risking losing the game. The well of mindfulness flows from being in tune with one's optimal self: a well-conditioned body, a stress-free mind and a connection to one's purpose.

Sport Is Competitive

Obviously, anyone engaging in sport is also engaging in competition, even if it's against themselves. Runners want to run farther and faster than they did on their last run. Weightlifters want to increase their reps and the amount they lift and... we probably don't need to point out rivalries between football clubs, do we?

Like every other sport, chess is also competitive.

Chess players compete against themselves and each other to raise their Elo ratings. They compete to complete norms required to advance in the ranks and they compete in tournaments to earn chess titles:

  • British Chess Champion
  • National Master
  • Candidate Master
  • FIDE Master
  • International Master
  • Grandmaster
  • World Chess Champion

To make things a bit easier, the title of chess grandmaster is not an apex you must beat another chess player off of. Many accomplished chess masters have earned their grandmaster title and, once it's theirs, they keep it for life - unless they violate chess' code of conduct.

By contrast, there's only one World Chess Champion title. It is contested biennially, just as (some) other sports' championship titles are.

Sport Is Played Everywhere

Every country embraces some kind of sport. In the US, baseball is called the national pastime but American football is really where the money and focus is. Basketball runs a close second, though. India has cricket and, while ping-pong used to be China's supreme sport, today, that country's athletes deliver strong performances in a variety of sports.

Here again, chess is on par with that standard.

Not only is chess one of the oldest games still in play today but, even in Antiquity, every region had its own variation of chess. Furthermore, the game has become standardised and, through rigorous analysis of past games and establishing new theories, chess has evolved over time - just as every other sport has.

That makes chess as much a science as it is a sport.

One of the more recent evolutions was computer chess. Now, anyone with an internet connection and a desire to learn or a passion for playing chess can log on to their favourite chess platform to play against other online players or against the machine.

Thank goodness for those chess platforms! During the peak of the pandemic lockdowns, that's how tournaments were held.

Competing in tournaments is how chess players rise in the ranks
Chess players are ranked and compete against players of similar ranks in tournaments. Source: Wikipedia Credit: Mike Larreartegi

Sports Players Are Ranked

Most Valuable Player (MVP). Player of the Year. GOAT - greatest of all time. Best and Fairest, Player of the Match, Athlete of the Year...

All of these accolades are usually given to athletes who've performed especially well or whose career has been exemplary. This year, two star athletes were accorded the GOAT title; Simone Biles and Roger Federer, although Novak Djokovic, this year's Wimbledon winner is running a very close second.

Those are all unofficial rankings, generally decided on by the public and the media. It's nice that sports fans get to show their devotion to their favourite athletes by up-voting them but public opinion does not an official rank make.

Formal ranking is achieved by assigning a numerical value to athletic performance, compiling and analysing that data, comparing them to other athletes' statistics and, based on the numbers, determining who consistently delivers the better performance.

Chess players are ranked in much the same way.

Players' Elo ratings rise and fall depending on their performance in each tournament game they play. As their Elo rating increases, so does their standing in the ranking.

Tournaments often structure their events so that players of similar ratings will face off in the first round. As you win points off your opponents' Elo ratings, your rating goes up. As you progress through the tournament, you will play increasingly-higher-rated opponents, earning points all the while

Provided you win, that is. If you lose a game, your opponent will be awarded points off your Elo rating.

So, not only do chess players compete for titles, they are also ranked according to their skill level... just as any other athlete is.

Chess being recognised by the International Olympic Committee as a sport notwithstanding, chess-as-sport is just one of the many faces of chess.

Now, discover some of the others...

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Krishna

Writer with an enthusiasm to learn more about SEO.