Chess: The Game of Strategy


Various board games have evolved over thousands of years in civilisations in various continents and areas of the world. These are largely mental competitions pitting the intelligence of competitors against each other.

Critics have argued that Chess is not a sport in the strictest definition of what sport represents which is physical contest governed by a set of rules.  It is in most cases classified as a “mind game” or recreational pursuit. Chess is one of the oldest board games which have, over the years, captivated the interest of people all over the world, regardless of age, gender, ability, socio-economic or cultural background. The game has been promoted in schools, colleges and universities as an activity which promotes logical and strategic thinking. Experts have attested to its power in generally stimulating the brain, intellectual development and academic achievement among participants.

Legend has it that the game of chess is very important to the military of the Russian army such that after passing written promotional examinations, if you cannot beat your commander in a chess game, you will not be promoted to a higher rank. The truth of this matter has not been established but one thing is for sure, chess is one of the favourite pastimes in Russia. The country has got many highly ranked players or Grand Masters, the most popular being the international chess celebrity, Garry Kasparov.

The International Chess Federation (FIDE) has done very well in popularising and developing the game all over the world. However, the efforts of FIDE alone are not enough in getting the game to be played at each and every primary or high school. In terms of inculcating discipline, focus and strategic thinking, the benefits of chess cannot be denied. It is therefore important that in Southern Africa, teacher training colleges and universities are encouraged to teach the game to all those  trainee  teachers who pass through the systems to later work in schools.

Chess clubs and tournaments, especially at primary schools, should be actively encouraged. Chess is relatively cheap and easy to promote. All what is needed is the availability of chess boards and sets at each and every primary or secondary school. The game is not that expensive to develop and promote unlike other codes which require expensive equipment, courts and stadia to get people playing. Since at its very best, especially in highly competitive or even social competitions, the game takes at least one hour or even much longer, the game should be actively promoted as an alternative to alcohol–based entertainment, which has been responsible for other forms of substance abuse, crime, violence and social decay. There are just too many liquour restaurants, bars and nightclubs in Southern African countries. There is no doubt that, given rapid urbanization and critical shortage of alternatives in terms of recreation and other forms of rational use of leisure time, these alcohol outlets and enterprises  have become primary drivers in  the spread of HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) in the region.

National education and sports authorities in Southern Africa have no excuse for failing to promote the game, given its obvious benefits to the children and youth. Africa has not produced any Grand Masters like the Russians, Americans, Indians and Eastern Europeans. This does not mean that Africans are not capable of reaching higher echelons of the world chess hierarchy. It all depends on the support services provided for them to develop their capability as well as participate in high level international chess tournaments.

The development of chess into a professional occupation where players such Kasparov, the Russian  and the American, Robert Fischer play in highly publicised and celebrated games worth millions of dollars in prize money is  a sign  of things  to come in the future of the game. 

Given the current drive towards regional integration, Southern African chess authorities should think of transforming the game through convention of high level tournaments for competitors at all levels with lucrative financial prizes and other rewards in kind to stimulate greater interest and commitment to the game in the region. Scholarships and bursaries can be part of the incentives to attract and retain high calibre players who can graduate to become International Chess Masters and Grand Masters.

National education and sports authorities need to be innovative in addressing the challenge of limited resources available to them to raise the quality of education or promote sports activities. Not every child is going to be Albert Einstein, Didier Drogba, Maria Mutola, Chad le Clos, Frank Fredericks, Lucas Radebe, Kalusha Bwalya or Kirsty Coventry. It follows that other viable alternatives should be availed to children to strive for and achieve greatness utilising their God-given physical or mental talents.

Chess provides a ready-made solution for enhancing the quality of education as well as training in problem-solving, strategic thinking and entertainment. 

The great statesman, Nelson Mandela, spoke of the power of sport and its ability to unite people of diverse backgrounds. Indeed chess falls into this category. It has the power to transform people’s lives by harnessing their ability to think and apply their minds to the challenges presented to them on the chess board. It also promotes respect for opponents since, just like any other contest, you need each other to have a game. However, chess is different to other recreational pursuits. It is more like dialogue, political discourse, business or trade negotiation where you have to sit and face your opponent across the table and make your moves with exactly the same tools that your opponent has. It is up to you how you deploy the various chess pieces on the board to put yourself in a position of advantage.

In conclusion and in terms of life-skills, the game also teaches introspection, tenacity and perseverance under adversity as you can achieve a draw or stalemate even if your pieces have been depleted on the board by taking advantage of the clumsiness of your rival. However, if everything fails, you have no option but to accept that you have been defeated in this game which is more like the art of war or invasion tactics. It is called a check-mate and you have to gracefully shake the hand of your opponent.

 Chess is indeed a grossly under-utilised tool for social change and development.In this connection, it is often said our youth are leaders tomorrow. They must not be used as pawns or be reduced to spectators in the game of wealth creation in the contemporary world. Let’s get our children and youth to play but above all, to think strategically! Let’s play chess!

November 2013
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