A sport of sorts: Should chess be considered a sport?


By Andy Arb & Joshua Coppenbarger

Webster University recently announced it would be the new home of the nation’s No. 1 chess team. The team relocated from Texas Tech University, and the chess program will begin during the 2012-2013 academic year. Two Journal writers debate on whether or not the “gentleman’s game” should be considered a true sport.

No physical activity means the game is not a sport — Andy Arb

To a die-hard sports fan such as myself, it may seem obvious that chess is not considered a sport. It’s played on a board while sitting in a chair and only requires lifting a one-ounce chess piece a couple inches after 15 minutes of strategic thought.

It takes zero athletic ability to play chess. I am not calling someone an athlete who doesn’t even move when they play their game. I consume more physical activity getting up from the couch for a bathroom break while watching a real sport on television than someone does playing chess.

In various discussions about why chess should be considered a sport, one has argued that it is physically demanding to sit for five-hour chess contests. Sitting through an hour-long lecture class can be as well, but that doesn’t make it a sport.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for those who play chess. It takes some serious mental preparation and strategic thought put into every move. But if I can play against a computer, it’s certainly not a sport.

On May 11, 1997, IBM’s chess computer Deep Blue defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game match. Deep Blue won two games while Kasparov won one. Three matches ended in a draw.

I’d like to see a computer on a baseball diamond, basketball court, football field or hockey rink. If the very best in your “sport” cannot defeat a computer, then your “sport” clearly doesn’t require any physical or athletic ability at all.

Chess does require a lot of strategy and planning ahead, which is why a computer is capable of playing and defeating a chess champion. The strategy required to play chess is also a counter argument for those considering chess as a sport.

A lot of other games played on a board require strategy as well, but I don’t see people debating whether or not Battleship, Monopoly or Life should be considered a sport. Checkers, the closest equivalent to chess, doesn’t get nearly the amount of attention in debate over what is considered a sport.

The rules of chess are rather difficult, so not anyone could sit down at a chess table and start playing. It requires sophistication and intelligence, but that doesn’t justify the reasoning for why this board game should be considered a sport.

While sports affiliates like ESPN and Sports Illustrated may report on the next chess prodigies and who is the world champion, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s a sport. While it is entertaining, ESPN broadcasts the National Spelling Bee every year. I’d like to hear the reasoning for why people believe that is a sport.

Some define a sport as having a clear offense and defense, which chess does have. However, it lacks the physical and athletic ability that defines a sport.

Now, if chess was played similarly to the end of the “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” movie, then I’d be more likely to define chess as a sport. Sadly, it is not.

Chess just doesn’t have the physical aspect of the game to be seriously considered as a sport. In fact, it probably took more physical activity for me to write why chess isn’t a sport than for chess players to complete a match.

Andy Arb is a senior journalism major and staff writer for The Journal.














Unique characteristics define chess as a sport — Joshua Coppenbarger

There seems to be tension when it comes to defining what can be a sport and what can’t. Women get enthusiastic when it comes to curling. Men find it baffling. Americans get angered when the Olympics won’t let American football into the games.

Chess is more than just a game — it’s a sport.

I wouldn’t recommend playing chess to lose weight, but where athletic skill lacks, chess utilizes patience, strategy and accuracy to win the game.

Oxford dictionary defines a sport as, “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.”

The only problem here is chess lacks the ability to be athletic, yet some still consider it a sport.

Like all rules, chess is an exception. The International Olympic Committee believed chess was a sport, so they added the game to their list. It’s not practiced in the actual Olympic games, but chess has its own international league held bi-annually called Fédération Internationale des Échecs — or World Class Federation.

After all, there’s only so much drama you can create to televise someone capturing the opponent’s queen. It’s more exciting to play than to watch.

Last December, Rex Sinquefield was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. No, the 62-year-old businessman can’t slam dunk, but he did help fund and establish the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis, and the World Chess Hall of Fame — both of which are right here in St. Louis.

Even ESPN covers chess. In 2003, they showed a match between Grandmaster Garry Kasparov and computer-based chess board X3D. They also continuously profile players of the game.

So far, internationally and locally, these sports organizations consider chess a sport.

Athletes get up early in the morning to stretch, exercise and train so they can be in their best shape for their competitions. Chess players are no exception. When I used to play — more in elementary school than now — I often woke up early on the weekends, stayed after school to practice, and learn new ways to defeat an opponent for the upcoming tournament that weekend.

Chess is also taken so seriously that players all have their own rankings and are matched depending on the wins and losses of the player. I was never fantastic — I held a 710 for a little bit — though I did manage to snatch more than 10 trophies and plaques in my day.

The lack of physical activity seems to be the common argument against chess being a sport. Good thing chess doesn’t need to be played sitting down or even with a board.

In 2009, Jefferson County in New York held a chess biathlon where skiers raced to different parts of a hill to solve different chess problems, trying to be the first to finish without missing a problem or getting it wrong.

It may take a 3-D board such as one in “Star Trek” for players to move pieces from different levels to be more “active” to qualify as athletic. Perhaps bringing the pieces to life and having players be the chess pieces would suffice for them (see: “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”).

There’s a multitude of ways for chess to be played and still be engaging enough for the sports fanatics to consider it a part of their league. We can’t help but to continue to play in its own traditional way.

So when Webster University announced it will be hosting the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence and all of its “A”-team members will attend school here, I couldn’t help but get excited.

Maybe now Webster students, and hopefully most of the world, can begin to see that chess is much more than a game and as more of a competitive sport.

Josh Coppenbarger is a sophomore journalism and film production major and assistant multimedia editor for The Journal.

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  1. For Andy Arb’s article,
    i dont think you have ever played a chessgame in which you have to make 50 moves and hit a clock and compete against your opponent and complete a game all in a one minute time span…try it sometime and then tell me you didnt play chess with physical exertion

    • I think a game and here is the logic.

      1. I am really bad at sports.
      2. I am really good at puzzles and games.
      3. I am really good at chess
      Therefore, chess is a game

      • Okay what about like, speed chess, i mean with seconds left on the clock, you snooze you loose..or if you knock the entire board over…oops

        • My cat Sushi is the world champion board knocker overer. Speed chess? Uses twitch muscle response, lots of adrenaline, emotional, and the OED defines game as “A form of competitive activity or sport played according to rules.”
          That is what I mean to write. Chess is a sport. My pen slipped on the page.

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