There are 16 pieces per player, in 6 different forms: pawn, bishop, knight, rook, queen, king. Each of these six can move in a predetermined way. The goal: Capture the king.
Simple, isn’t it?
The difficulty and intricacies of chess arise when you actually start playing. The rules and the goal are deceptively simple. Because of this simplicity, the game can be played at many, many levels. There is an incredible continuum of strategy and spectrum of skill: from novices still figuring out how to coordinate the pieces, to masters who plan ten moves ahead and spend their spare time reading strategy.
But just because you are not a master, does not mean that you cannot play chess. There is a perception out there that chess is a game only for geniuses. It is not. The key to playing chess is playing it with someone who is at a similar skill level as you — someone who will challenge you, but neither bore nor discourage you. Yes, chess is cerebral. But so are books. No one ever said you shouldn’t read Harry Potter just because you can’t suffer through The Brothers Karamazov.
To me, chess is about enrichment, sophistication, and ultimately making a connection with your opponent. It is enriching because it is intellectual exercise, and that is why it is important to play with someone at your level. You push your mental barriers, just like you would push your physical barriers training for a 5k. We are always striving to improve ourselves. At the same time, there is a certain sophistication and class to chess. Chess is not a drinking game, nor a game to be played accompanied by loud music. It is dignified. But the most important thing to remember is that chess discriminates against no one, and is exclusive to no one. If you know the rules, you can play — and that is where the connections are made. I would argue it’s an intimate activity to play a game of chess with someone. For the duration of the game your entire focus is on the one person sitting across from you, trying to figure out every detail of his or her personality and motivation in the blink of an eye, all the while being acutely vulnerable to the exact same from that person. Phew, did it just get hot in here?
I think it’s a beautiful game. And I think it’s an incredible way to make a connection with someone. When you discover that the person you’re having conversation with plays, and you pull out the board and start setting up the pieces, you begin to get those butterflies. At least I do. One of my favorite things in the world is when I see those permanent chess boards in the park: People of all ages, genders, colors, creeds, religions, orientations, and so on, engaging each other.
If I ever become a millionaire, I’ll donate some to the BU Beach.