Is Chess a Sport?

Moving chess figure.
Moving chess figure.

In a world of instant information, finding out whether chess is a sport or not should be relatively straightforward. However, there are many debates online that try to answer this question. Perhaps we should first ask what the definition of sport is?

Sport is an activity that requires physical effort and skill. It abides by a set of rules and is mostly exercised by an individual or a group competitively.

Does chess fall under this? Let's find out.

What Is Chess Anyway?

Chess is a two-person strategy game, played on a chessboard with 64 light and dark squares, with sixteen pieces (pawns, rooks, bishops, knights, a queen, and a king) for each player. The rows are ranks, and the columns are called files. Each piece moves in a particular way. The players exchange moves with one playing with light pieces, the other with dark pieces. The players are usually referred to as "white" and "black" players. The "white" player always plays first. There are three stages in a game; the opening, a middlegame, and an endgame. The game usually finishes with a "checkmate" when the opponent captures the "King" piece.

The Challenges Of Chess And Its Recognition

Even though the game of chess does not require superior athletic skills, elite players must be in great shape. The reason is that a game between players of such caliber often lasts over 7 hours. If a player loses concentration and makes a mistake in their move, they could be easily defeated. Players have to continually hone their skills by studying their moves, the openings, the endgame, and much more. Even though it is not recognized as an "Olympic Sport," the International Olympic Committee recognizes chess as a sport. 

A Brief History Of Chess

The beginnings of chess were 4000 years ago in India and Persia. The game was called chaturanga, which means ''military" in Sanskrit, and it required four players and dice. The players played with small carved pieces of horses, elephants, foot soldiers and chariots. The game experienced a significant change somewhere between 1470 and 1495. Especially in the West, where there were more possibilities with some pieces, the game developed faster, which made it more exciting. Today's international chess is based on these significant innovative changes in the new game.

One chess pieces staying against full set of chess pieces.
One chess piece staying against the full set of chess pieces. 

The Evolution Of Chess

The chess we play today is around 2000 years old. Popular among nobles, chess was considered a "royal game." Somewhere after 1475, the rules of chess experienced two significant changes. A piece called "counselor" became the most powerful piece in chess with the most maneuvers and "underwent a sex change" as the "queen."

The second big change was pawn promotion. Once a pawn gets to the last rank, the player can replace it with a stronger piece. Around 1835, an Englishman, Nathaniel Cook, established the standard set that chess players play today. He patented the design in 1849. The world's best player at the time, Howard Staunton, endorsed Cook's design. Staunton also organized the very first international chess tournament in London in 1851.   

World Chess Championship

With the popularity of chess increasing in the last two centuries, players have competed for the world champion title. After Staunton's tournament in 1851, the Americans organized the First American Chess Congress in 1857, which was the first national championship. In 1924, fifteen countries met in Paris and organized FIDE (Fédération Internationale des Échecs), the first permanent international chess federation. Russians hugely appreciate chess and view it as a national hobby. From 1951 to 1968, all World Champions and their challengers were from the Soviet Union. In fact, Moscow was the host for all the championship matches.  


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