Chess played over the board is dying in Britain. Whether it be in league games, weekend tournaments or junior competitions, there is a dearth of young players whilst there are plenty of older men playing each other. The prognosis is not good for the future of chess. It still seems popular at primary school, but by the time the children reach secondary school the enthusiasm wanes. No doubt there are plenty of other distractions, not least electronic or internet based games.
One loss is that chess is good for developing children’s minds and developing confidence. They get to concentrate for several minutes at a time and to think logically. I used to teach chess to children and I found something quite extraordinary: it wasn’t necessary to explain the rules to them – they all just picked it up. They would watch each other and correct each other. Hence the famous story about Capablanca who learned by watching his father at the age of four and pointed out an illegal move. I have always thought of chess as more of a language. Some people become very fluent at it.
Another loss is that chess is perfectly international. You can go anywhere in the world and find someone to play chess with. It brings people together. In the epic Fischer-Spassky World Championship in Reykjavik in 1972, during the height of the Cold War, chess was the common language of the United States of America and the Soviet Union. I suppose in the future, the game of choice will be something like Warcraft.
There are many Victorian parlour games that have disappeared. Even the board games I played as a child – Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Monopoly, Risk, Stratego, Othello, Go – are rarely played. I get the impression that word games such as Scrabble and Boggle remain reasonably popular. Meanwhile the rise of Crosswords and Sudoku in the press gives adults, especially commuters, another avenue for intellectual challenge.
Chess will never completely disappear because of the supreme beauty of the game and the fanaticism of its adherents. It has recently become very popular in India (its birthplace) due to the success of Anand, and China is also promoting the game so at least the developing world will keep it going. It is a cheap game to play and doesn’t require any batteries, unless for an electronic clock.