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Max's Champions

Game? Sport? Art? Science? Psychology?


From the beginning of human history people have played games. Of the thousands of games in the world, only chess is known as the Royal Game or the King of Games. The unique beauty of chess has attracted some of the greatest minds of history. Why is this? What makes chess so fascinating? Critics of the game see only grown men around a checkered board and ask. "Why would anyone want to play chess?" There must be something that makes this game so fascinating, for why has it survived these many centuries. Things survive the test of time because they are needed!

Chess is a very old game; its practice goes back to prehistoric times. In ancient tombs have been found pieces which archaeologists assure us were used in a form of chess. A more modern version came out of India to Persia in the 7th century A.D. This was originally a game of war called charuranga. Some of the Persian terminology remains to this day. The word checkmate comes from the Persian shah mat. Shah meaning "king"' and mat meaning "helpless" or "lost". Little by little the rules of chess became standardized, and it arrived at very much like its present form toward the end of the 18th century. Of all the games, chess is the perfect tool for developing the mind. As Goethe said, "the game of chess is the touchstone of the intellect!" Chess is a reflection of life, requiring a determination to compete and desire to win. At the root of chess is the battle of minds. You have to use your brain. You must think and you must train yourself to think in unique and different ways. Life is a kind of chess, with struggle, competition, good and bad events.

Chess, wrote Ben Franklin more than 200 years ago, is not merely an idle amusement. Chess, he said, can teach "Foresight, which looks a little into the future. Circumspection, which surveys the whole chessboard. Caution, not too make our decisions too hastily and lastly we learn by chess the habit of not being discouraged by present bad appearances in the state of our affairs, the habit of hoping for a favorable change, and that of persevering in the search of resources."

Some claim that chess is a science, some insist it is an art. Former world champion Boris Spassky called chess "a sport." Another, even more famous world champion Emmanuel Lasker called it simply "a fight". Of course chess contains all of these elements, elements that reach deep into the psyche. Lasker said that chess players aim only for truth over the chessboard: truth manifested as a combination of moves for which there is no answer. Truth manifested in the creation of an elegant sequence of moves that is as inevitable and flawless as the flow of a Shakespeare sonnet. Truth manifested in such a high degree or creativity that sheer beauty is the result. On its highest level chess is as much a search for perfection as mathematics, art, music or any other undertaking on the creative mind. Instead of using notes on ruled paper, or oils, or stone, or words or formulas, the chess player uses the 32 pieces and the 64 squares of the chessboard. With these raw materials he expresses his own personality. What results is a conception with a high degree of expression, imagination and creativity, a conception that uses the ability to see or sense possibilities hidden to less refined minds. It is this ability to synthesize and come up with an unexpected, flawless sequence of moves that separates the great chess player from all others. The chess genius, like the mathematical or musical genius sees certain inherent possibilities in a situation that less gifted intellects cannot begin to envisage. The chess genius thinks differently than others. All of a sudden comes an unexpected thrust, a flash of vision, and it is a moment of intellectual and aesthetic beauty. It is this necessity to see and foresee, to conceive of the game as a unity, to make the best choice among many alternatives that makes chess what it is. In many ways the chess genius is allied to the genius in any other art form. He aims for beauty; he takes materials that are available to everybody and by sheer imagination creates something unique and perfect, something no one else can duplicate. Whether this beauty is expressed in musical notes, in formulas or with chess pieces, it is a symbol of man's desire for order expressed in an original, unforgettable manner. The most important gift that a great chess player must have is a fertile imagination. He must be able to retire from the world of reality into a realm of strange shapes and forms, which he combines to create a novel situation. In a sense, doesn't the musical composer do the same? Chess, like music, has its romantics, its classicists, its avant gardists, its eclectics. Chess, like music, is basically an art of development, combination and continuation. Chess, like music. demands total dedication from its geniuses. Caissa, the god of chess, is a stern muse. Chess players, like other artists, are often obsessive, spending 8 or more daily hours in practice, always in search of the truth.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries the international organization of chess was chaotic. especially regarding the process of crowning a world champion. In 1924 a world organization. FIDE (the Federation Internationale des Echecs) was created. It is FIDE today that is responsible for the rules of play, for awarding the title of Grandmaster (through rating points, you get to be a Grandmaster by beating other Grandmasters), and for arranging world championship matches. Of the millions of chess players in the world. only about a dozen or so at any given time are the elite of chess - the acknowledged geniuses, the creators of beautiful games, the theoreticians who change concepts, the ones whose games will be studied, replayed and enjoyed a hundred years in the future. Kasparov. Karpov, Fischer, Spassky, Tat Botvinnik - they are the latest in the grand line that extends backward through Alekhine, Capablanca. Lasker. Steinitz and Morphy - geniuses all; different in many ways, but all geniuses. Great chess players are geniuses of tremendous accomplishment, marked off from the majority of their gifted fellow men by an irresistible impulse to do chess.


Dejan Maksimovic

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