Sunday, November 08, 2009

The historic connection between chess and baseball in the U.S.

The historic connection between chess and baseball in the U.S.

Lubbock Avalanche-Journal
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Story last updated at 11/8/2009 - 12:27 am

The question of the week is when did chess become popular and how popular is chess today? In addition, does chess have a worldwide governing body?

In the late 1820s and early 1830s, chess gained new popularity because of the "great chess automaton" - a kind of 19th century precursor of a chess playing computer. This great automaton was designed to resemble a large "mechanical brain" capable of playing masterful games of chess. In actuality, the games were played by a human being hidden inside the machine.

The deception was so cleverly done, however, that the audiences invited to peer inside the machine before the exhibition began were none the wiser. That the automaton turned out to be a fraud did nothing to dampen the surging enthusiasm for the game. By the middle of the 19th century, chess had come into its own in America.

Between 1857 and 1860, there were only two major sports "crazes" in the United States: baseball and chess. In 1857, both chess and baseball were among the first sports to form national organizations. That was the year the American Chess Association was founded.

Chess and baseball were so closely linked in the public's mind that Amherst College hosted a "doubleheader," which featured both the first intercollegiate baseball game and the first intercollegiate chess match.

Today, according to CBS news and the U.S. Chess Federation, 40 to 45 million people play chess in the United States. Worldwide, chess is played in more than 160 countries, and it is estimated that more than 700 million people know how to play chess.

What account for the popularity of chess? Well, for one thing, chess is one the fairest games of all. Men, women, and children of all ages start out in chess at the same level. Children with little experience can beat adults who have played for years. There is no advantage due to height, weight, gender, age, skin color, nationality, or social class. To play, you don't have to have money or belong to a club; all you need is a chess set and a place to play (or the Internet).

Unlike other board games, chess is considered a combination of art, sport and science. Certainly chess can be fun and can be played by everyone. But to be a competitive or professional chess player requires skill, knowledge, strategy, experience, wit, logic, focus, patience, discipline, fitness, good memory, strong nerves, mental toughness, and yes, sometimes even luck.

Chess wasn't always a thought of as an equal opportunity game. At one time, chess was considered something of a rarefied pastime, competitively dominated by men who were generally wealthy and well connected. But in the last few decades, the world of competitive chess has broken wide open.

For instance, my sisters Sofia, Judit, and I proved to the world that women can play chess as well as men, competing with and beating our male counterparts. Nor is age a barrier to achieve: teen such as Sergey Karjakin from Ukraine, and Magnus Carlsen of Norway are both world-class grandmasters.

Competitive chess players train as vigorously as Olympic athletes, spending up to 8-12 hours analyzing games of opponents, and improving various parts of their games. In the United States, there are several noteworthy young stars, such as 17-year-old grandmaster Robert Hess, and 15-year-old grandmaster Ray Robson (youngest grandmaster in U.S. history and reigning U.S. Junior Champion).

Organizing Chess Play

International chess competition is governed by the World Chess Federation, which is known by its French acronym FIDE (Fdration Internationale des checs) and was founded on July 20, 1924, in Paris.

With its headquarters in Athens, Greece, FIDE is the umbrella organization for more than 160 national chess federations, as reflected by its motto: Gens Una Sumus (we are one family). National chess federations, such as the USCF (U.S. Chess Federation), which have been admitted to FIDE, manage chess activities in their respective countries. With more than 5 million registered chess players worldwide, FIDE is one of the largest organizations recognized by the IOC (International Olympics Committee).

Important FIDE titles

Here are some of the important and prestigious titles awarded by FIDE:


International Master

FIDE Master

Woman Grandmaster

Woman International Master

Woman FIDE Master

International Arbiter

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