Epic Adventures on 64 Squares
Chess is one of the games that has remained popular throughout all cultures for hundreds of years. According to a survey, 15% Americans, 23% Germans, 43% Russians, and 70% Indians play Chess at least once a year. The game is now almost 1500 years old. It’s origins can be traced back to India, from where it spread through Persia to the Muslim world, and then to Europe. Throughout the years the elephant became the bishop, the advisor became the queen, but it still remains as relevant as ever. For those interested I can recommend looking up the history of chess in your own time- it truly is fascinating. But I want to focus on something else in this article.
From my own experience, I know that chess gives me an adrenaline rush like no other “game” And honestly I wouldn't even consider chess a game- I consider it a sport. It requires intense mental focus and throws you into some sort of flow-like state. The interesting thing about chess is that there is no luck involved, instead, it is pure skill (and at higher levels extensive studying of openings, tactics, and the games of Grand Masters). You can really tell a lot about someone's character from their play style.
I was curious how the UCG community experiences Chess, and what drives them to keep playing. I’ve asked 9 UCG chess players (including myself) and a friend of mine about their story. Here are their chess journeys, and what inspires them, (and maybe soon you) to keep playing!
Moritz (ex-UCG student)
I must have been around 8 years old when my dad taught me how to play chess. “The horse can move one straight and one diagonally, and it can jump over other pieces”. Since the first game, we played he’s been wiping me off the board, though he managed to do it in such a way that I didn’t learn to hate the game. He’d be encouraging and give me tips on how to improve (“develop your pieces, watch your pieces, don’t bring your queen out too early”).
I love games in general but I love chess in particular because it ties together a variety of cool elements: memorization (openings); creativity (finding that queen sacrifice) and excitement (checkmating with an attack in the last few seconds of a game).
And then there’s the red thread: rationality. ‘Cause, there’s always a 'best move'. And if you find it, you’re golden. There’s no need to roll sixes, just to find the best move. If you play the best moves, you will win (maybe draw if you have the black pieces). And you’re in control of that, that’s the cool part.
What makes it even cooler is that you can always get better. Chess is that deep. Unlike tic-tac-toe, the learning curve is endless. In the last 16 years I got quite a bit better at finding the best moves. So much better, in fact, that I can now beat my dad. On a good day.
PS If you feel like playing a game hit me up: ‘iamheasyouarehe’ on chess.com
Pietro (4th year)
When I was young I would sometimes play some games with my dad and always get royally f****d. My dad likes to win eh eh. I kinda left it there because I was too excited as a kid to play a thinking game. Since then, for about 10 years I hadn’t played a single game. Until last year…I don’t remember exactly who I first saw play in the UCG canteen, but certainly, Moritz was the one that got me back into the game. I created a chess.com account (with the supercool “RooKnighTower” nickname, credits to Moritz and Niclas) and also started playing a few games live at UCG. I think in the first few weeks I only managed to win a couple of games and lost all others, but I was just getting started. Since my first games with Moritz, I got way better and a couple of weeks ago I ended up winning a tightly contested UCG tournament. I have to say that playing with friends is a major reason why I play it. But I also like it sooo much! It’s not the type of game that feels like wasting precious time that you could use to read a book or study. It’s never boring because all matches are different and if you lose you only have yourself to blame! You can of course also study openings and all but, well…I like to practice more and I still learn a lot.
Julia (3rd year)
How did I get into chess? It’s a good question. My dad taught me when I was little I think. I then attended a chess club at primary school, composed of nerdy 10-year-old boys. I remember one day we went to a chess tournament, with 200 chess boards in one gym. By some fluke, I got through the first round and I won a book about chess which I never read. There were girls there who practiced 8 hours a day, and I remember an especially intense match with a girl with an intense stare. I came home and cried and my parents thought it was not a good hobby for me so I wasn’t allowed to go to the semi-final. I haven’t forgiven them since, and tell everyone instead I was a chess-prodigy.
Anton (2nd year)
I was pretty young, about five years old if I recall correctly when my grandfather taught me chess. We played quite a bit back then and even though I never managed to beat him, I always liked playing. Growing up, the interest faded a bit and like most people, I never played more than once or twice a year. It wasn’t until I went to the Philippines in my gap year that I started to get back to it. I was living in a village for orphans and troubled children and we would battle it out every day on the chessboard. I was hooked and never really stopped playing since then. It really is a rollercoaster of emotions sometimes. From the joy that one gets out of playing an accurate game or a beautiful combination to the rage from losing in a time scramble or blundering away a winning position. Similar to poker you have to keep your emotions away from the board and focus on the game. Over the last years, I have played thousands of games online and increased my knowledge not only about the game but also about its history, the great players, and the current chess scene. Also, I have learned to smash my grandad. Currently, I’m still playing just for fun but I definitely want to take part in a real over-the-board tournament in the future and maybe even hold a title one day!
I started playing chess because many of my friends do. I became particularly aware of this in times of the pandemic. As we do not meet in person as much, the chess players turned to online alternatives, such as Chess.com. All of a sudden, I saw people play on their phones all the time. So I also downloaded the app, watched The Queen's Gambit, and here I am.
I find chess enthralling. My favorite game is Blitz, and afterward, my heart pounding, I often feel like I just came back from a sprint. Oftentimes, I play chess in study breaks – it stimulates my brain, while still taking my mind off uni for a good few minutes. When meeting in person, I like the social aspect of it. We play chess, chatting, having a drink, just spending a cozy evening together. The atmosphere, while at times a bit competitive, is rather supportive. We learn from each other, the better players giving advice to the beginners, such as myself. Lastly, what I love about the game is that you can study such a small board so thoroughly – it's a little world that allows for constant growth, which feels kind of liberating.
GT (4th year)
The first time I came into contact with chess was when my mum signed me up for the chess club in school when I was pretty young. Had no idea what was going on, didn't understand any of the instructions. But then my parents bought me a chessboard so I could better learn it. My dad helped me understand the rules and the game grew on me steadily after that. I wouldn't say I'm obsessed with chess but I really appreciate it as a lover of games in general and that it sharpens your minds' thinking powers the more you play. I also really enjoy playing it with people as it's a great way to spend time with friends especially when you don't feel like talking. It's great to connect with others, be it your friends or strangers, a person's method of thinking is at least in some part displayed on the board in front of you. So yeah, great game, highly recommend.
Mia (3rd year)
My chess knowledge and its origins stem from a very cloudy place in my mind. I am unsure where I learned my chess basics, just as you are probably not aware of the precise moment you learned that the capital of France is Paris. Part of my memory claims it was my dad who taught me, yet my family denies that. Ultimately, I have no clue. I remember being in primary school and playing in a little chess club in my tiny town in South America. Since then I haven't touched a chess piece for 9 years until I arrived in Groningen. A chess competition at UCG reignited my interest. I have been slowly improving over the past year and a half. I am nowhere near „good“ yet, but chess gave me something to do throughout lockdown. Others checked Instagram or the news when waking up- I went straight to chess.com. I guess one of the reasons I play is because I feel like women are still heavily underrepresented in chess. I've also always liked games that engage your mind, such as scrabble or concept. I think you can just learn so much more from chess than we are conscious of: be it memory, problem-solving, abstract thinking, decision making, or focus. The fourth and back of a heated chess game can attack something within me, that is usually protected. Maybe it’s pride.
I started playing chess when I was about 6 years old. Not because I liked it, but because of my constant exposure through my grandfather playing chess with his brothers. At our local chess club, my mom used to stand next to me reminding me it was my turn. I can’t remember, but according to her, I was focused on anything but chess during my games. Even though I was not making any chess-related progress, I guess playing at that age did spark interest which exists to this day. A few years later, at about age 13-14, I started playing again, this time a lot more serious. I loved it. I was playing against grown-ups, which felt really cool at that age, especially when I won.
I vividly remember a particular chess match against another club. Our team had 8 players, and since everyone else had finished their games, the outcome of my game was going to decide the end result of the match. 14 gray-haired 50-year-old men were watching my game against a much stronger opponent. I found a queen sacrifice and couldn’t believe my eyes. After I played it, my opponent thought for about 15 minutes and then he resigned. I felt amazing. We won! :) My friends at school didn’t think that was cool, but the guys from my chess club did. As I got older, winning against grown-ups became less interesting, since I was becoming a grown-up myself, so I quit.
Quite recently I got into chess again! I am studying daily and decided I want to reach a chess rating of 2200. For anyone reading that doesn’t know, basically, a chess rating is a number that represents your chess strength. The higher, the better. Currently, I’m hovering somewhere between 1600-1700, so there’s a lot of work left to do!
My father taught me chess at a young age, but only in recent years have I come to start truly valuing it for what it is. Chess is the raw cunning and guile of two players matched against one another, battling it out for supremacy. It is a formidable sport that requires great concentration, but those who achieve it can create true art. When I read about the great grandmasters such as Capablanca and Fischer, I can only dream of thinking of what their worlds must have been like. I study and play chess in the hopes of catching a mere glimpse of my own version of that beauty, of what my own creativity could possibly, one day, offer me.
Beni (3rd year)
My father taught my brother and me how to play chess when we were 5. Obviously by the time I learned the game my brother had a two-year advantage, so I was no match for him for a long time (I could win like 1 out of 10 maybe). My father was clearly way too good for either of us, he still beats me usually. Since we were pretty young, no one else in the kindergarten and elementary school could play yet, while at home I was usually beaten by those idiots (papa and brother). Because of that, I lost interest within a year or so.
The next time I played was actually when in 7th grade there was one person missing in the school team, for the Budapest competition of elementary schools. Hence the teacher, who was the trainer of the team, asked if anyone knew how to play chess and I told her I could. Despite not being good enough for a championship of any sort, she said they just need one more person, the level wouldn’t matter. So off I went, to be completely humiliated (I won some like 2 out of the 10 games I played). Nonetheless, I took an interest in chess again. I still was usually beaten by my dad but at least I could put up a proper fight against my brother.
Even though it was very common in Hungary to play chess (most post-socialist countries have that), in our generation, it's not that “cool” anymore or I don't know. So I was mostly playing it domestically and whenever I was at my friends’ place, their fathers were always like “Ah you know how to play? Let's play one!”. Through this I occasionally gained new experiences from different people.
When I came to the NL for the first time, for my highschool exchange I was extremely bored (this was before I made friends), so I taught my host brother how to play chess and he grew into an amazing player. Since he was pretty good, I felt like I needed to practice but still, there was no one else around to play with (especially not in Zutphen) so entered the crazy world of online chess. By the end of my exchange year, we were playing like maniacs: ten games a day or so. Those were the times I was the best rated on chess.com.
After I went back to Budapest this addiction got more subtle but stayed (thankfully) and I played online quite a lot. I was very happy when I came back to the NL for uni and figured that people like to play chess here. I think I started playing with GT and it was great, then Moritz and the other joined too. It feels very nice that most of these peeps are better than me because it's always challenging you know. I think that is also why I play it, it is a great mental challenge, there is also something very romantic in sitting over a board just chatting, playing, drinking coffee, wine, or whatever you fancy. It is a great social activity for me. I do not really see it as a competition when I play- I just like playing. So yeah, I guess I just really like the game and the social factor of it. Also when I play someone and I win I can give something for my arrogant narcissistic personality to chew on. Does feel kinda nice to be superior sometimes.
*names have been changed
I hope with these stories I have awoken your curiosity to give it a try. If you are interested in playing chess and are not yet part of the UCG Chess Club, you can join our WhatsApp group using this link.