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13 Things 2009

13 Things 2008

Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

Back to The Game of Chess...

The game of chess has so many incarnations and social consequences that I can't cover them all. However, I would like to touch on all of the following topics:

  1. Origins and the moral/social implications on modeling the chess pieces (knight, rook, royalty)
  2. Chess amateurs and the intentions of chess education
  3. Chess champions: motivation, psychology, and the techniques they use
  4. The implications of the confrontational table top game versus other formats of gaming
  5. What skills does chess teach? Are they practical? How much importance do we give them?
  6. Creativity vs. rigor: The fight of computers and man to define the "essence" of chess
  7. Most importantly, why is chess held to the highest standard of games in the Western world?

My Proposed Thesis

Chess is much greater than the sum of its parts. Chess games have chronicled the clashes important to society: the US versus Russia, man versus machine, and royal knights at court. Outside of the realm of a "normal" (or popular game), chess only occurs under special circumstances. Carrying a custom of formality, two players square off against one another. The game is therefore not only one of tactics, but also psyche. Indeed, studies give evidence to the long-held perception of the chess "Champion" as a socially frustrated individual who is entirely devoted to the craft. All players - from the amateur to the Grand Master - are attached to a score ranging up to 2400. Even the gentleman players in the park time themselves and play regularly in a format that retains the social competitive function of chess.

I plan to unpack the function that chess plays in society. I argue that chess is a far abstraction from any circumstance that one may approach in real life. The rule structure is so foreign from the physical world that the common analog - of war, of strategy - falls through. Nevertheless, chess is not a game to be taken lightly; even novices approach the game with their full concentration and honor. Ben Franklin, as cited on the frontpage, claimed that chess promoted good foresight, circumspection, and caution. Even these fail to get across how good chess play brings together all of the features of a good ethic - respecting the past, inventing with cleverness, and seeing the task through to the end. What chess teaches cannot be boiled down to logic, but rather, it defines the human character that people perceive to be unique. No wonder the possibility that a computer or machine could win at chess became such a huge fracas! I will address the full complexity of all of the various groups involved - nobles that sought a "distinguished" game, enthusiasts (even in the park) that play to exercise their minds, and the beginner who loses because his best moves lack intuition.

Chess: Photojournal


  1. W.R. Hartston and P.C. Wason, The psychology of chess.
  2. Reinfeld, Fred. The human side of chess : the story of the world champions, their triumphs and their illusions, their achievements and their failures.
  3. Carroll, Charles Michael. The great chess automaton.
  4. Middleton, Thomas. A Game at Chess (play from the Renaissance on a chess game).
  5. Shenk, David. The immortal game.
  6. Online readings on IBM's Deep Blue chess computer.
  7. D.J. Richards, Soviet chess.
  8. Possible interview with a chess master (I know one!)