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Sexism, cheating, and nightclubs: inside the dark heart of modern chess

๐ŸŒˆ Abstract

The article explores the resurgence of chess in recent years, driven by the pandemic and the Netflix series "The Queen's Gambit", and the challenges the game faces, including sexism, cheating, and the impact of online play. It follows the author's personal journey into competitive chess, from facing off against child prodigies to navigating the complex online chess community.

๐Ÿ™‹ Q&A

[01] The author's chess journey

1. What was the author's initial experience with chess competitions?

  • The author's first in-person chess competition was the 22nd annual McClain Memorial Tournament in San Francisco, where they faced a severe-looking child who beat them.
  • The author also played against a middle-aged asset manager and a tech worker in her mid-20s, both of whom beat them.

2. How did the author's interest in chess develop over time?

  • For the first three decades of their life, the author had only fleeting phases of mild interest in chess, playing occasionally online or over the board with a drink.
  • However, in recent years, the author became "chess-pilled" due to the increasing popularity and media attention surrounding the game.

3. What were the author's experiences with online chess?

  • The author played a lot of "bullet chess" on, where games last less than 3 minutes, finding it to be more about pattern recognition and reflexes than improving chess skills.
  • The author also explored different chess clubs and events in New York City, such as the Marshall Chess Club and the more casual Club Chess.

[02] Challenges facing the chess community

1. What are the issues of sexism and harassment in the chess world?

  • Sexism has long been a problem in chess, with only 4% of players being women in 1990, and 14% today.
  • Women have faced belittlement, mistreatment, harassment, and abuse, from snide remarks to sexist comments during online play.
  • The author discusses the #MeToo moment in the chess world, with allegations of sexual assault against a prominent coach.

2. How is the issue of cheating affecting the chess community?

  • Cheating is a major problem in chess, especially online, with banning 90,000 players per month for cheating.
  • The author acknowledges having cheated in the past, finding a "prurient little thrill" in winning through undeserved means.
  • The fear of cheating can taint players' enjoyment of the game, as they feel like they're "playing god" rather than their own skills.

3. What are the negative aspects of the online chess culture?

  • The online chess community has been influenced by modern video game sensibilities and "smack talk", with poor sportsmanship, rage quitting, and normalized abuse in chat rooms.
  • The author found themselves becoming overly focused on their Elo rating, which can lead to an inferiority complex, as chess is a "notoriously brutal game for the ego".

[03] The author's reflections and advice

1. What were the author's most memorable chess experiences?

  • The author's most memorable chess experiences were playing in the crowded, lively atmosphere of Club Chess in New York, playing with a friend over a gin and tonic in a cabin, and battling it out in a Russian bathhouse in San Francisco.

2. What advice does the author give for becoming a "good" chess player?

  • The author shares advice from a ChessPage1 video, which suggests that among amateur players, the key is to simply avoid blundering, rather than trying to execute a complex game plan.
  • The advice is that if you can avoid making major mistakes and spot your opponent's blunders, you can become a "very good chess player" without needing to master advanced chess theory and strategy.

3. What is the author's overall takeaway from their chess journey?

  • The author concludes that chess's problems, such as sexism, abuse, and cheating, are not unique, but the game is uniquely positioned to amplify the internet's worst impulses.
  • However, the author found the most fulfilling chess experiences were those that were not online, where they could simply enjoy the "stunning, breathtaking beauty and magic of chess".
Shared by Daniel Chen ยท
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