The Brain Sport of Chess

In 2007, a computer “solved” checkers—that is, went through every possible move to determine the optimal game. The number of possible moves in a chess game is dizzying, more than the number of atoms in the universe; no current computer can “solve” chess.

via The Prince’s Gambit – The New Yorker. (Bold highlight mine)


Two weeks ago, my dad and mom came up to Oregon to visit with us for my mom’s birthday, and then mine the next day. We spent my whole birthday doing nothing but playing games. We played chess, Ben and I, then we each played my dad. We have been learning the game, but are nowhere near his level of expertise. He has actually played Grand Masters in Europe and his own mom and dad played daily their whole lives. He told us how the United States Military had once been on the lookout for young people who were skilled at Chess, because it is such a game of strategy, and such a mental workout.

Dad got Ben all the way down to having only his King on the table, which my mom said she’d never seen before. I promptly followed with getting beaten and getting all the way down to nothing but my King on the table as well. We have so much to learn.

Apparently, after reading the above mentioned article, computers are taking some of the beauty out of Chess. I have recently read the All Soul’s Trilogy, (twice through, truth be told) which included many moments of chess, chess strategy, the poetry and poise and romance of chess. I’m trying to wrap my mind around it, just as I try to wrap my mind around the beauty of math. I don’t get it, but I long to get it. The spirit is willing, the mind, I’m afraid, may be weak-ish.

Playing with someone as good as my dad made me realize why people put so much energy into learning this game. It was like every one of my brain cells was standing at attention trying to stay alert to all his possible moves, all my possible moves, each of our counter maneuvers and, truly, it was dizzying and exciting.

So, Ben and Bean and I are all trying to learn this game. Learning the moves is one thing, learning to play it with finesse is another thing altogether. I believe there will be chess tournaments, and chess clubs in our future, just so we can play with different people and learn some strategies from them. We picked this game up at Barnes and Noble – it has two books included that explain more of the nitty-gritty details in ways that kids can understand, so hopefully, that will help me learn the game better myself. (If only the grammar on the front of the box wasn’t a glaring distraction.)


The number of possible moves in a chess game is dizzying, more than the number of atoms in the universe; no current computer can “solve” chess.

That’s crazy fantastic, and the nerd in me loves the impossibility and vastness of it. The poet in me daydreams of all the possibilities, and gets lost in hazy faux-memories of castles and regalia.

This is a game worth all the work of learning to play it, I believe with all my heart.

Photo of my dad, or Bumpa as the boys know him, and the fantastic chess set we got last Christmas.

Leave a Reply