Chess – short play or long play

I should imagine this post may appeal to some chess lovers and maybe not much beyond that. Chess has been an interest of mine ever since I was taught how to play this beautiful game by a couple of our local rogues when I was a boy, one had been in a young offenders institution and picked up and grew to respect the game there. I recall when I did my Duke of Edinburgh’s Award as a 13 year old, the interest I chose was chess. I have played the game on and off ever since that time, sometimes seriously, including in my early career, the workplace, when my firm played in a local league, but usually it has been with friends and family members, for fun.

Most recently I find myself pitted against homeless folk (the Eastern Europeans are often pretty good at this). In recent years I have discovered and play online chess (an electronic variant on correspondence chess) on chess.com. Two days ago, I achieved my best ever online ranking and it was quite nice to realize I am not going doolally altogether! But as for playing serious chess, the type of chess which can go on for hours, as part of a team, played with clocks, with grades and positions in leagues at stake, this is only something I have recently returned to. Besides being a pleasurable antidote to my community activism, in my retirement, I get to play with some nice people and help in a set up that encourages school kids to play. About which, a month or so ago, I played against three of them in a rapid tournament, and lost all my games!

But back to the serious stuff, I have found myself playing a number of these games this season, more so than for many a year, and while I have yet to win a game, I have yet to lose a game either and, unless he is just humouring me, my captain seems pleased! One of the points here is, similar to what happens in cricket, after a long period of intense exchanges a draw frequently remains as much a possibility as a win for either side. This is especially true for stodgy types like me that have had more than my fair share of draws. And it is at this point, I get up on my soap box and make an observation and a suggestion, which I hope will not fall on deaf ears.

I like to think my club is special because it operates an active youth / children’s arm that we wish to encourage, and we include seriously young players in our teams. But I have also noticed that there seems to be a preponderance of, dare I say it, seriously old players playing in the leagues. Nothing wrong with that of course and I should consider placing myself in that category. But it strikes me that the appeal of chess is or at least should be that it attracts players of all ages and from all walks of life, including those who are in full time employment that may feel reticent giving up whole evenings to play. Sadly though, there remains a dearth of female players playing.

My observation relates to what happens after playing intensely for 2-3 hours and then there is no clear outcome. Usually at that point it is clear to an honest outsider that understands chess who it is that has the upper hand or if the game looks headed for a draw. What used to happen is that time is called and the player due to move thinks with clocks running and then seals (in secret) his move. On another day (to be agreed) the two players then continue to play with time added to the clock, and by sealing a move no one player is seen to have gained an advantage. This has gone on for years in top level chess and is part of its charm, including opportunity for seconds, top level players, helping in adjournment analysis.

However, we are not talking here of top level chess. Rather we are talking about moderately good players who want to improve and do well, playing for the pure enjoyment and social interaction that invariably takes place, often with limited time to indulge in such activities. There is an alternative, and that is after reaching the agreed time control, add extra time to the clocks so all remaining moves are to be played within the time remaining and before throwing out time, thus not having to resume on another day, although given these games usually take place in the evening, they cannot start too early or finish too later, leaving at best 3 hours playing time. At the moment this is an option. Some players agree to play this format but if one of them wants to play the longer form then that is what happens  on a date to be agreed.

I realise serious players want time especially when chess reaches the end game phase (which really does test players qualities) and yet to balance that the need for busy people to finish a game in one session (and not having to schedule a play on session). The reason why I would like to see only the short form of play or at least making it the default if no result after the first time control (albeit open to what what works best clocks wise) is that it gets the games over and done with in one (2-3 hour) session, stops the kerfuffle that sometimes arises when deciding which form to play, it still allows enough time for a player to construct a chess players masterpiece and it may attract a new generation of chess players to take part in what I see as an enjoyable and important activity in the chess playing world. Were it to come to a motion at the next league meeting (and it should be in order to attract more members), I would vote instead of long play being the default at the first time control, make it short play!

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