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On Chess: Making Connections Through the Game of Chess

Crystal Fuller
St. Louis Chess Club
It may look like each person is playing on their own in this photo from the 2019 Club Championship. But after the game is when the friendships start.

Playing a tournament chess game is a lonely, solitary experience. No one can guide you through the endless possibilities and complications, and unfortunately there is only one person to blame if the game goes south. Conversely, the joy of winning is only heightened by overcoming this pressure of being on your own. Surprisingly, this isolation during competition stands in stark contrast to the truly social nature of the game. Chess provides countless opportunities for people to connect with each other.

The social aspects of chess happen after the tournament game itself. The two former opponents often dive straight into analyzing their game with each other. Invariably, a discussion that begins about the chess game starts to drift toward a casual, friendly conversation. Occasionally, the players might even share a meal or drink together post game while discussing their past tournaments and personal experiences with chess. Tournaments also provide an opportunity for distant friends to come together and compete. Oftentimes, friends will share a hotel room to save on costs and enjoy the tournament together. After the rounds for the day are over, it’s not uncommon for competitors to stay up late into the night playing speed chess and going over each other’s games.

Outside of tournaments, the social aspects of chess are even more apparent. Throughout the world, people come together to play the game. Interested hobbyists enjoy casual games with each other while constantly learning new concepts, and seasoned tournament players train together to help improve. While technically an individual sport, chess is clearly a game built to connect people together.

This often-overlooked social component to chess is a hugely important part of the game. People who might otherwise struggle to connect with others personally can easily find their niche community in chess. One can find players of all ages, backgrounds and levels at any tournament and at many local chess clubs. More research comes out every year detailing the varied benefits of chess for everyone, but the connection is one aspect of the game to which I can personally attest.

In my own life, the social benefits of chess have been invaluable. During the terrifying years known as middle school I could always look forward to the weekly chess club meeting. It was a place where everyone could share their enjoyment for chess without any of the social pressure to fit in that comes along with the seventh grade. A little later in life, I went off to face the daunting challenges of college. Amid the difficulties of being hundreds of miles away from my high school friends, trying to learn and living on my own for the first time, I joined the university chess team. Before too long, that team gave me new friends, study partners and some much-needed advice on how to cook for myself (or, more realistically, the best places to order out). Even now, I am constantly finding new, interesting people to connect with through chess. Just last February, I had the opportunity to compete in a tournament in New Jersey where I played with members of a famous (in some circles) chess club that meets in an IHOP regularly.

Fortunately, you don’t need to go to New Jersey or back to middle school to connect with people through chess. I have found some of my closest friends in St. Louis through competing and working at the St. Louis Chess Club. The welcoming and friendly atmosphere is an integral part of the Chess Club, and it’s the perfect environment to allow chess to bring people together.

My experience is just one example of the impact of chess as a social game, but countless other chess players have similar stories to tell. Chess is truly an invaluable tool to connect with people from all walks of life, so get out the board and pieces (either physically or online) and play a game with someone else today.

Caleb Denby is a national master from the St. Louis area. He grew up playing chess at the St. Louis Chess Club, where he currently works as a senior chess associate.

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