Getting On Board with Chess

Hearing the lyric “it’s chess, not checkers” in hip hop songs all my life, it began to bug me recently that I didn’t fully understand the context of that notion. When I was a child I remember vividly, my brother getting the most beautiful Alice in Wonderland chess set for Christmas. Years later I wish I had sat down with him and learned the game.

One thing I have noticed since deciding to learn, is that most of the men around me know how to play. Whether they enjoy it or not, they know the basics. In Union Square, the only people I see offering up games are male. This is not to say that women don’t know how to play chess. But, in my experience I have generally only seen guys play.

You know that phenomenon that once you are aware of something, you see it everywhere? Well I’ve started noticing that when chess is used on TV as a prop…it’s usually the male characters that own the set or are playing. I did a bit of research and it is unequivocally a male predominated game. Chess has a long history and it seems people haven’t quite decided whether the game is better suited for the ‘male brain’ or, if there is more of a social construct issue at play. I was never told the benefits of learning chess but I have been told that the benefits I’ve now discovered from playing, just aren’t girls’ strong points.

When first learning the rules of chess, you’ll quickly discover that the queen is the most powerful piece on the board...Interesting. You’ll also come to realize that there are practices in chess that can be incorporated into everyday life. I would say the characteristics of a good player aren’t things I necessarily feel I possess. Now, this could be because of my more ‘right brain’ tendencies as a ‘creative’ – but that doesn’t mean they aren’t things I can learn and develop. This also doesn’t mean that my ‘female brain’ is unable to grasp them effectively.

"Queens after all, can move in any direction."

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The game nourishes incredibly beneficial thought patterns, and I have already noticed an improvement in some of my own - all of which evolve the more your practice…

- Thinking five moves ahead

- Weighing options

- Predicting patterns

- Adjusting approaches

- Trusting your own intellect

Are these skills we have been encouraging females to perfect?

There is one thing I can’t help but feel has been discouraged in girls, that definitely has to occur in a chess match: sitting quietly while being thoughtful and focused. I’ve come to wonder if this is something we don’t embolden girls to do. We tell them to be friends with everyone, to be outgoing and fun. In my experience at school and the work place, if you’re the quiet one, you can be sure that eventually…you’ll also be called the bitch.

Chess isn’t and shouldn’t be a boys’ club and if you need a skill for ‘adulting’, it’s thinking ahead. Teach your daughters to play chess. But not just play chess, see the beauty in chess. See the absolute poetry in its’ movement. My only regret is that I didn’t learn earlier. ​​

I recently had some good news from a job and the reward I gave myself was buying some nice chess pieces. Weighted and well formed, when I play with them I feel invested in stretching my brain. I am by no means a great chess player (yet) but I am better today than the first time I played. Age comes too soon and wisdom, too late. So, arm our girls with the tools to be strategic and majestic. Make sure they know that strategy, logic and thinking ahead are not ‘male qualities’. Queens after all, can move in any direction.


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