An overview of the different ways chess is played around the world, and its impact on society.
There can be no doubt about the cultural differences between one country and another in our world. Sometimes, even neighboring nations can be worlds apart ideologically. That’s why it’s so amazing that the game of chess has been able to become so universal, transcending not only the test of time but also borders between nations and people. In almost any country you travel to, a chess board and set of chess pieces will be recognized. You don’t need to speak the same language as someone to sit down for a game of chess. In many cases, you don’t even need to speak at all!
Since chess is such a beloved game everywhere around the world, it’s no wonder that each place has a slightly different culture surrounding chess. Just like anything else, some locations are more heavily invested in chess while others see it as more of a casual way to pass the time. This informative article will take the reader on a tour of chess culture all across the globe.
A Brief History
As many people know, chess was a game originally invented in India. It spread through the Arab world quickly once they got wind of it, and from there proceeded to conquer the entire world. By the Middle Ages, it had become something of a spectacle in Europe, and shortly thereafter, chess tournaments began to be played and the world entered into a new age of competitive chess. Having discovered it, it’s unlikely that the world will ever give up tournaments and go back to a time when chess was purely a friendly, casual game played between friends or family members. The introduction of tournament play represented a fundamental shift in chess culture that changed the way the game was played forever. It is probably the biggest cultural shift in chess from its worldwide spread to the modern day.
Best Chess Cities
There are certain cities around the world that act as “meccas” for today’s best and brightest chess players. Places like Havana, St. Petersburg, Tromso, London, Reykjavik, and more all have bustling chess scenes that encourage and challenge the next generation of top chess players. Let’s take a look at each city and see what makes each one so chess friendly:
Havana may not be the first place you think of when you think of chess friendly cities, but it actually ranks pretty high on the list! José Raúl Capablanca was a Cuban chess champion in the 1920s, and his success in tournaments is what first turned Cuba’s attention toward chess. The city even holds an annual chess event in memoriam of him – the Capablanca Memorial Tournament, which attracts thousands of competitors and spectators each year. For many years, it was the best paying tournament on the circuit!
St. Petersburg, Russia
Everyone knows that Russians love their chess, and nowhere is that more true than in St. Petersburg. The country’s second largest city is filled with chess clubs, chess teachers, and public spaces where people can come together to play chess. St. Petersburg is even thought to be the place where the term “grandmaster” first came into being, when Tsar Nicholas II bestowed that title onto the top 5 players at the 1914 tournament there.
Iceland’s capital city is home to 6 of Iceland’s 8 grandmaster level players, which isn’t surprising when you consider that 60% of all Icelanders live in the capital region! Because of Iceland’s small population, it can also be said that 1 out of every 20,000 residents in the city is a chess grandmaster! Those are some impressive statistics. Reykjavik also played host to one of the most famous chess matches ever- Bobby Fischer vs. Boris Spassky, cementing its place in chess history forever.
London has long been an epicenter for European chess culture. In fact, the whole thing started here in 1851, when London hosted the first ever formalized, international chess tournament. That particular tournament was won by German player, Adolf Anderssen. Since then, London has hosted 7 more world chess championships, second only to Moscow.
New York, New York
New York is home to Marshall’s chess club, which many grandmasters frequent and many famous players have played- including Magnus Carlsen and Bobby Fischer. It is the hub of American chess culture. New York is also the city that hosted the game-changing match between Garry Kasparov and Deep Blue, the computer that would make chess history by beating him at his own game.
Chess is a huge cultural phenomenon in the United Arab Emirates, so it should come as no surprise to see its capital, Abu Dhabi on this list. In recent years, the UAE has made a concentrated effort to drum up more interest in chess, since its leaders see the game as an integral part of their Arab culture. They are host to many tournaments and have even built the world’s biggest (in size of building) chess club.
Speaking of chess clubs, there is perhaps no better way to get a feel for the chess culture in any particular place than by walking into the local chess club, if there is one. If there’s not, you’ll know right off the bat that chess probably isn’t that big of a deal in this city! To find out about chess clubs in your area, try searching online. The United States Chess Federation keeps a records of most of the chess clubs in the US on their website. A quick search for something as simple as “chess clubs,” should turn up several results for chess clubs and groups in your area. If you don’t find anything that way, though, try asking around to see if your friends and acquaintances know of any local chess clubs that might not appear in online searches. This is a great way to find smaller chess clubs in your immediate area that may not have the resources or the time to advertise themselves online. Word of mouth is the main method of growth for small chess clubs like these.
Once you’ve found a chess club you like, get to know the other players. Find out how many players typically show up to events, as well as how often events take place. The amount of players and events will give you an insight into how active this particular chess club is. If they only have one event per month and only a handful of players show up to it, it may not be the chess club you want to join if you’re looking for a lot of stimulating chess games. However, if you don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to chess and don’t want to get left behind as the other chess club members host more and more events you can’t attend, this slower paced club could be a great fit for you! It’s all about finding the right match for your current situation.
If there are no active chess clubs in your city, you could always take the initiative and start one up! Spread the word about your chess club- pass out flyers, run an ad in the local newspaper, set up a website, and put ads in community pages like Craigslist. Chances are good that several chess lovers in the community have just been waiting for someone like you to come along and start up a chess club they could join! If you find that no one’s taking the bait, though, and all your hard work advertising has been for nothing, keep reading because in the next section we’ll discuss online chess groups, which could be a great option for you.
Online chess groups are a lifesaver for chess players who live in remote areas without a lot of other players to compete against. Thanks to technological advancements, chess players can now be connected to each other in real time via the internet. You can play games against far away friends or be matched with strangers, it’s up to you! There are several websites you can use to be matched with a player, like Internet Chess Club, ChessCube, Chess.com, and others. Here’s a quick overview of the differences between each site:
Internet Chess Club
This site is one of the best online chess playing sites for serious players. More grandmasters and other titled players play on this site than any other. But, the ability to play against such strong players does come at a cost. There is a monthly membership fee required to play on the Internet Chess Club, although your first month is free so that you can try it out and see if you like it enough to commit.
ChessCube is unique in that it not only matches you up to play single games against other players, but it also hosts daily tournaments that anyone can compete in. Winners earn “cubits,” which can be used to purchase items in the site’s online shop. You can also use these cubits to bet on games.
Chess.com is one of the best free resources for online chess playing. It allows you to play live chess with various time control options available, or you can choose to play correspondence-style games, which can sometimes have days pass in between each move. You can pay for VIP membership which allows you access to more features, but basic membership is always free.
Finding and Shaping Your City’s Unique Chess Culture
There’s no better way to find out about any particular place’s chess culture than to just get out there and experience it. You’ll learn more by joining a local chess club and interacting with other local chess players than we could ever fit in this one article! We encourage you to become involved in local chess groups, leagues and tournaments so that you can not only experience your city’s chess culture, but you become a part of it and help to shape it. If you wish your city had more chess events, the best way to make that happen is by getting involved. If you’d like to see a certain type of event or certain playstyle be more represented in your town, there’s no better way to make it happen than to lead the way yourself! While chess culture is unique and different in each location one visits, it can always be changed for the better. And the way those changes happen is by chess lovers like yourself being willing to get involved and put in the time and energy to bring chess to the forefront.
Sure, online chess is a great tool for casual players and those who live in extremely remote areas, but if you’re aching to play face to face, don’t settle for less. Get involved, be willing to get your hands dirty, and you’ll be surprised by just how much one person can affect the chess culture of a town or city. Start your own chess club and you may be surprised by how many chess players come out of the woodwork looking to join. Host your own tournament and the same may be true. Either way, you’ll never know until you give it a try!