Does Playing Chess Make You Sexy?!

This question was posed by my partner Karen in the pub the other night as she watched a friend and I push wood around the board. She definitely thought NOT!!

Is this typical Anglo-Irish prejudice that is reflected by the rest of the non-playing chess community of these islands? Being good at chess in the British Isles does not confer sex appeal.

In other parts of the world chess players are judged as sports people, have endorsements, and are used as models! They are sexy.

It is a universal truth that in these islands no-one ever took up chess in the pursuit of finding their true love. I would also contend that no-one ever took up chess in these islands to improve their sex appeal.

Why?

Sadly, competence in chess at club level never translates into huge amounts of adoring fans, invitations to glamorous parties, members of the opposite sex falling at your feet, or an improvement in your physical appeal. It also does not confer wisdom in the fashion arena.

To use the Jeremy Clarkson vernacular – the image of the club chess player is popularly covered by words such as jumper, pipe smoking, socially awkward, boring, tweed jackets etc. You are definitely viewed as the Austin Allegro as opposed to the Ferrari you think you are.

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After a couple of pints and a chat with Karen, John hit the karaoke …

But the professional chess world gives us Magnus Carlsen and Alexandra Kosteniuk, amongst many others who are both smart, good looking and sexy. Great for them, but sadly it does not seem to trickle down.

With the Oscars season just passed, it is worth looking how Hollywood uses chess. It is overwhelmingly used as a prop to convey intelligence and sophistication. Only once to my knowledge has it been used as the element of seduction [answers please to our Twitter account!]. Surely those two traits are sexy?? At our level… no!

The combination of art, science and life that is chess must be sexy?? Again, at our level… no!

So do the new pursuits of chess-boxing and chess-hip-hop hit the sex appeal scorecard? Good for boxing and hip-hop, but for our chess playing level??…. no!

So sadly I conclude that I reluctantly agree with Karen, Another victory for her! Again!

But I have the final word… Damn the popular majority! Chess makes me feel good, and that alone in my mind makes me sexy!! So there!!

By John White, London League 4 Captain and Sexy Beast.

Last Updated: Mar 25, 2016 @ 12:51 pm

Why do I play better against stronger players?

This is a question that keeps many club chess players awake at night – especially if they are graded, like yours truly, between 120-140 ECF.

This is something we have all experienced at some stage of our chess odyssey.

The circumstances when these thoughts appear are often the same. They usually occur after securing a heroic draw against a 180-rated opponent when you had the best of the game. This is then followed by a horrible and deserved loss or draw to a sub-120 graded player in your next match.

How can I play so well and soar so high, then sink so low?

This is the joy of competitive club chess. It allows you to dream and then cruelly dishes out a dose of reality.

This has happened many times to me in my lowly chess career and hence the need to address this question in a public forum.

After sufficient navel-gazing time I have come to the conclusion that the same factors are involved in both games. Obviously you may say, but please let me explain why.

To use an excellent analogy, I will call it the “Leicester City Chess Rules” (LCCR).

Nobody gave Leicester City a chance to escape relegation last season or to win the Premier League this season. Indeed, the odds at the start of this season of them winning the league were 5000-1!

Will LCCR help you outfox your opponents?
Will LCCR help you outfox your opponents?

The rules are not exhaustive and can be expanded:

  • Your frame of mind.  I am playing a 180 – he/she should crush me – so a loss is no disgrace. I play without pressure. Nobody expects me to win, or even draw.
  • Your opponent’s frame of mind.  All the pressure is on them. They have the high grade – they should crush me. I am sawdust compared to their stardust. This can induce a false sense of security and lead to risk-taking. Something they would never entertain against a peer.
  • The time factor.  I have found that the liberating effect of no expectation translates into excellent clock management. You play sensible and logical moves – avoiding at all costs a tactical melee. This means you are often well up on the clock. Time pressure is your high-grade opponent’s problem, not yours.
  • As the game progresses – the effect that a loss or draw has on their grade increasingly comes in to play.
  • The pressure that comes from the results on other boards. This is something that can affect your opponent as other results come in.

These are the five critical factors that influence the course of the game. Unfortunately, they also apply equally – but not so favourably – to your game with sub-120 graded opponents.

  • Your frame of mind.  I should win; I out grade them by 20 points – the win is in the bag. So wrong in every way – Caissa has many ways to dish out a dose of humble pie!
  • Your opponents frame of mind.  They play without fear – they do not know about your 180-graded heroics. I am just another opponent.
  • The time factor.  My clock management is far worse. I spend too much time striving for an advantage – when simple moves would be better. I must and will win. This thought process inevitably results in defeat.
  • As the game progresses, the realisation that you may actually lose increasingly weighs on you. This is compounded by the thought of lost grading points.
  • The match situation.  Your team needs a win – you need a win – this ups the ante and again clouds your thought process and logic.

What conclusions can we draw from this? These are my personal LCCR’s:

  • Play the game not the opponent
  • Every game of chess is the same. There are only three possible outcomes
  • Use a bit of Lasker logic – make pragmatic moves when the position is unclear, not so-called “strong” moves
  • Do not waste loads of time on obvious moves. Avoid time trouble
  • Your grade will take care of itself. The game on the board should be your focus.
  • Finally, play your game, not the match. This may be a Boycott approach but chess is about your game not your teammates. This may be selfish but it will help focus your mind on what you can actually influence. Of course, supporting your team once your game has finished is essential.

Adoption of the LCCR may not make you a better player, but it will give you peace of mind. Playing without pressure means you will play better.

So, do you play better against stronger players?

My answer on balance is probably yes, but the flip-side is that your results against peers tend to remain the same for the reasons outlined above. If you can translate that form against the very strong players to your usual graded opponents then you may be one step nearer to unlocking the mystery of that board game called Chess.

By our London League 4 Captain, John White.

Last Updated: Mar 25, 2016 @ 12:51 pm

Training Day – Part Deux

A reminder – Monday 29th sees our second evening of theory training at the club. It’s another free & open session – non-members are welcome to come along and join in.

Our Chairman, Bajrush (Rated ECF 208 for rapid play!) will be taking us through the following topics:

  • Endgame revision with practical sessions
  • Middle game basics
  • Basic openings & opening theory

Promises to be another valuable session – hope to see you there!

IMG_5765

Oh Captain! My Captain!

By our London League 4 Captain, David Lambert

I’ve only been playing competitive chess for a few years – one season for Denton whilst in Manchester before joining Hammersmith in early 2012. Back then I wasn’t thinking about captaining a team. I was happy to just turn up and play.

I remember having a conversation with my captain one day in the usual post-match post-mortem – I think he may have slipped to a disappointing draw. “Captaining a team takes 10 points off your grade” he chuckled to himself.  How could that be? It didn’t seem that hard – you just send an e-mail a few days before the match asking who wants to play? Then you toss a coin as the match kicks-off to decide colours. Easy…

OhCaptain
Oh David!

I’ve been a captain now for approaching two full-seasons so thought it might be interesting to double-back on that throwaway comment and see if it carries any weight.

I finished the 2014 season on a grade of 127, and at that time took on the mantle of captaining our team in London League Division 4.  It’d be a challenge: our team was likely to be graded in the 140-80 range and yet we’d regularly come up against teams with a 120-130 on bottom-board; a 175 on Top Board wasn’t altogether surprising either. Still, it was about getting games and ensuring that we were able to follow-through on providing league chess for our newer members.

The season was a difficult one – even factoring-in the other matches outside the league, I ended the season on 34%. My Jan’15 grade was 117 and my final-year grade was 121 – a total of 6 points lost like-for-like. But fast-forward a few months and I was back up to 126. All things considered, I’m not sure there’s much in it. The more cynical amongst you may argue I didn’t have that many grading points to lose in the first place!

Still, I wouldn’t say captaining a side is without its challenges. Even in my short tenure, I’ve had to deal with:

  • Team-mates not turning up / travelling to the wrong venue / pulling out with an hour’s notice
  • Team-mates arguing with each other / other teams
  • Opposition captains complaining about one of my players
  • Multiple wrangles with the league over player eligibility
  • Disputes over time controls / weird once-in-a-lifetime rules

Once I’m in the midst of a match, I tend to knuckle down and concentrate on my game – I’m not sure it’s much of a burden. The biggest stress I have is wondering whether my 8 players are going to turn up! That broad smile you see at 6:59pm in Golden Lane, when the last player rolls through the door, that’s a real one!!