I love sports because they’re infinitely analyzable: from the macro to the micro, from one century to another, from one GPS transceiver to the next. I will spend my entire life watching, studying, chronicling, playing, and analyzing the sports I love and never come close to knowing all there is to know about them.
As a kid, that same depth drew me to chess. So many possibilities and strategies, centuries of knowledge to learn and explore—and, oh yeah, it’s a head-to-head battle of wits. Maybe you got me in dodgeball this morning but you’re mine now, sucker.
But somewhere around junior high, chess lost its appeal. Part of it, if I’m being honest, is that I taught my little brother to play when he was around four—and by the time he turned six he was significantly better than me. It’s hard to feel like an intellectual bully when a kindergartener keeps taking your lunch money.
The 2021 World Chess Championships
are being held right now, and their profound failure to be interesting has helped me understand why I liked
chess as a kid but never loved
it; why I prided myself on my analytical mind, but blanched at memorizing openings and defenses and variants.
Chess, at its highest levels, is now just very fancy tic-tac-toe
: the only way to lose is to make a mistake. The world’s top players avoid mistakes by memorizing every possible move, counter-move, variant, and permutation before they show up to play. Nobody has actually won
a world-championships match in regulation since Obama was president.
Two humans killing a few hours by slowly replicating computer-perfected strategies until they inevitably agree to call it a draw could not be any less interesting to me: