Is Chess A Sport?

Many chess players and enthusiasts argue about the definition of chess. Is it a sport? Or is it just simply a game?

Is Chess A Sport

And while this may seem like a trivial question, the answer is actually very important, especially as it relates to funding. 

Many government grant programs and charities only offer financial aid to officially recognized sports.

Therefore, if chess is a sport it opens up a whole new world of funding for chess clubs, which not only gives people a chance to play chess who never would have before, but it keeps the sport alive too.

So is chess a sport? Yes, it is, and below you’ll find 4 compelling reasons why.

Chess Is Competitive

Like any other sport, chess is competitive and chess players feel the same powerful drive as any other athlete. They also face a challenging struggle against an opponent who is just as highly motivated as them. 

However, some would argue that just because something has a competitive element doesn’t make it a sport.

For example, card games like gin rummy, board games like Monopoly and even tiddly-winks are competitive, but it’s hard to argue that these can be considered sports.

Chess Involves Skill

What makes chess similar to other sports is that it requires skill. Like a footballer needs to learn how to tackle, pass and think strategically in order to score a touchdown, becoming skilled at chess takes a lot of practice.

You need to read books on technique, learn how to play the game, memorize openings, and familiarize yourself with the finer points of endgame play. 

However, many would argue that while chess requires skill, this doesn’t necessarily make it a sport as there are many other activities that involve skill, such as painting a picture or driving a car.

Chess Has Etiquette And Rules

Just like sports such as cricket and tennis, the official chess rules are recognized around the world.

Chess has etiquette protocol that states players need to shake hands before a game, be respectful to their opponent by not purposefully distracting them, and that the losing player should remain composed in the face of defeat and not storm off – no matter how much they may want to!

Once again however, some could argue that having etiquette and rules doesn’t make something a sport.

For example, when dining at a fine restaurant there is a code of etiquette, and assembling furniture has rules in order for you to assemble the furniture properly. 

There Is Physical Exertion Involved In Chess

There Is Physical Exertion Involved In Chess

Sport is often defined as being an activity involving a team or an individual that competes against each other for entertainment and that involves physical exertion. 

For those who argue that chess is not a sport, this is often seen as the most compelling argument that chess is not indeed a sport.

After all, they claim, how can sitting silently in a chair at a chess board be considered physical exertion? 

But any chess player will tell you that chess is physically tiring and doesn’t just require basic motor skills of picking up a chess piece and placing it on another square.

However, it’s hard for people to understand how physically tiring chess can be unless they have actually played chess. 

Think about the last game of really intense chess you played, when the nail-biting outcome relied on a knife edge, when your mind was buzzing with all the complexities and you had to concentrate harder than you ever have to make the right move. 

When the game finished, you probably felt not just physically drained but mentally drained too, and mental exertion has a physical manifestation.

A challenging chess game can get your heartrate up, raise your blood pressure and make you sweat, even though there is little kin-aesthetic movement involved in chess. 

Top chess grandmasters know they need to keep their bodies in top condition in order to play chess at the highest level.

For example, world champions Magnus Carlsen and Bobby Fischer both had demanding exercise regimes so they could compete for a long time without their concentration waning. 

Fischer had surprisingly broad shoulders, as he swam and played tennis. He explained in a 1971 interview how peak chess players need to have good blood circulation to the head in order to succeed.

Meanwhile, Carlsen does his opening preparation on a treadmill, is a talented football player, and his own personal chef accompanies him to chess tournaments so he can keep up his strict diet. 

Vishy Anand is a former World Chess Champion, is also very athletic and is a particularly keen swimmer. He exercised a lot before his first World Championship Match in 2013 against Magnus Carlsen. 

While people have different definitions of physical exertion, the International Olympic Committee is a pretty good arbiter and they consider chess a sport. 

Final Thoughts

So now we’ve laid out all the reasons why chess is a sport and found out what the International Olympic Committee has to say about it, is it a sport? Yes, it is!

However, the status and image of chess as a sport varies wildly from country to country. In Russia for example, chess has always been held in very high regard.

After all, a lot of former World Chess Champions such as Botvinnik, Karpov, Kasparov, Kramnik and Spassky all came from Russia. 

China has also held chess in high regard too. The Chinese government gives lots of financial support to their top chess players, and it’s no surprise that China won the penultimate 2014 Chess Olympiad in Tromso.

Many Chinese chess players such as Ding Liren, Li Chao, Wei Yi, and Yu Yangyi have joined the 2700-club in the last couple of years, and one of the world’s best female chess players, Hou Yifan, is also Chinese. 

While chess is recognized as a sport in virtually every country in Europe, countries such as Germany provide little financial aid to promote chess.

But the more other countries invest in chess and recognize it as a legitimate sport, the more they can compete on the world stage.

Jenna Ostria
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