Why do you play chess?

Why do you play chess? Would you like to play chess professionally one day? Would you like to improve to a certain level? Or do you just enjoy playing the game?

A lot of keen chess players!

Different things motivate different people to playing the game and I would be interested to know what motivates the chess players of Yorkshire to give up their weeknights and weekends to play our fascinating game.

In Yorkshire, we are spoiled for choice in when and where we can play chess. You can just about play every night of the week in the local evening leagues and most weekends in congresses, rapidplays or the Yorkshire Leagues.

I would suggest that there are two main types of chess player, those who simply play because they enjoy playing – the “social player” and those who are seriously trying to improve their ability – the “studiers”.


My guess is that the majority of amateur chess players fall into this category. In the same way that people like to go out to the cinema or watch their favourite team on a Saturday afternoon, social players like to play chess as a fun activity after a long day at work. They spend little time studying the game and prefer to simply play.

In my experience, social players are found at all levels of the game, right up to GM level. Most of these players at one time or another must have been “studiers” (see below) but have found a level that they are happy at, a level where they can understand the game well enough to enjoy it and feel that hours upon hours of further study would not improve their play significantly enough to be worthwhile.

Victories and defeats are still an important part of the game for social players, but after a loss they can quite easily sleep at night having still enjoyed themselves and enjoying the company of those around them.

Further to the social players, there are those who invest a lot of time into other chess-related activities. Arbiters, coaches, organisers, grading officers and many other chess volunteers often give up even more time than the players themselves ensuring that other players can enjoy playing chess. These people’s love of the game is obvious for all to see and all the other players would be much the poorer without the enthusiasm and dedication of all these volunteers.


Studiers are those who spend a significant amount of their free time studying the game trying to improve beyond their current level, whatever level that may be.

Wins and losses mean much more to these people, as they are often obsessed with their grade. You will hear these people say things like “I can’t believe I lost to that patzer, it’s cost me 1.6 points on my Chessnuts live grade!”

These people will typically analyse the games that they have recently played and will often specifically prepare for playing against somebody they know they will be playing against. Opening work is an integral part of these players’ spare time. They will target competitions and leagues to play that will allow them to improve the most by playing stronger players or players they can prepare against.

All juniors fall into this category, which makes them so difficult to play against as they are fearless and see all their opponents as potential victims!

Could any of these kids become the next Gawain Jones?

Because chess is a game that is purely to do with thought and mind, it has a very addictive quality which people struggle to shake off. Most people take up the game at school as “studiers”. Then when other things in life start to become more important, chess often takes a back seat. Some players continue to be studiers, whilst others become social players and other simply give up the game altogether. A lot of these people who give up the game come back to it at some point, at which point they often return as “studiers”, trying to recapture the skills that they previously used to have.

Chess players alter between “social” and “studier” modes several times during their career, sometimes even several times during a season!

I personally consider myself as a “studier” at this point in my career. I try to spend at least session a week either going through my games, doing puzzles, learning something new in the opening, whatever I feel like at the time! I am also playing a lot of chess at the moment, occupying myself with Bradford and Leeds Evening Leagues, Woodhouse Cup and 4NCL.

I love chess because chess is hard! Chess is such an easy game to learn to play, but incredibly hard to play well. That is why at this point in my life, I am trying to gain more understanding and increase my playing strength to however high it will go.

Why am I writing about this topic? It would be interesting to see how amateur players view the game. Without wanting to delve into chess politics too much, if we know what the players of chess actually want from the game, it would make for more informed and relevant decisions when it comes to rule changes, the types of competitions that are on offer, organising different types of chess events etc.

Don’t forget to answer the polls below and please voice your opinion in the forum!

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Features editor for the Yorkshire Chess website. I collate and write atricles about all the latest chess activities in Yorkshire and beyond. I've also been known to shove some pieces myself from time to time!


7 Responses to “Why do you play chess?”

  1. dave hirst

    Feb 18. 2012

    Nice article, Andy. Would possibly extend the types of chess player to include those who view chess as a means to boost their alcohol intake. I couldn’t possibly mention any Archers, Hirsts or Thackrays in this matter. But if a club did offer the temptation of free alcohol for members, it could well be a disturbingly popular club!

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  2. Austin Elliott

    Feb 18. 2012


    Like the point about ‘returners’ often being sort of ‘studiers':

    “A lot of these people who give up the game come back to it at some point, at which point they often return as “studiers”, trying to recapture the skills that they previously used to have.”

    That would probably describe me, as a returner after 30+ years … though i don’t kid myself I’ll ever recapture my previous (not actually all that high) level…!

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    • Andy Bak

      Feb 19. 2012

      There is an interesting aspect to retuning players, particularly with players like yourself who have not played for “30+ years”. This is of course the introduction of chess computers and the internet.

      I have only played in the computer/internet era. I assume that before this era, it was much more difficult to learn about chess, to learn about openings and indeed endings!

      It seems like the standard of play is quite high, even among strong amateur players now. Is this an illusion? Were 200 graded players 30+ years ago stronger than now?

      The reason why I bring this up is that chess has moved on considerably and people like yourself not only have to relearn what you previously knew, but also adapt your learning to what is played nowadays. Have you found this in your own experience in coming back to the game?

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      • Austin Elliott

        Mar 04. 2012

        Hi Andy

        Thanks for the reply. Hadn’t been back since taking your poll, hence the delayed response.

        You’re right that I played well before the computer era – in the mid-to-late 70s, actually – and that it was far harder to find chess info then than it is now. Basically you had to use books – either bought or from the library – or subscribe to the chess magazines. This meant an extra investment of time or money compared to now, when most chessplayers have internet access.

        As to what differences I notice… At the sort of level I’m playing at – opponents graded in the 120-180 range, with an average grade of probably around 140 – I would say that the main differences are that people are more tactically astute than of old – it is harder to catch people out with standard tactical tricks and simple combinations, at least until time trouble sets in – and that people know a lot more opening theory than of old (presumably reflecting proliferation of info).

        The ‘tactical tricks awareness’ might reflect the easier availability these days of tactics books, online tactics quizzes and so on, I guess, or people playing lots of online blitz with both mostly tactical play AND the ability to review your games afterwards..

        Re openings, back in the day I’d say you didn’t tend to meet anyone terribly versed in opening theory until you started playing people at least 150+, or perhaps 140+ in the junior tourneys. But nowadays I find that a fair proportion of people even in the 120s and 130s seem to be versed in the theory of their pet opening(s). For instance, in a recent game I had the black side of the Smith-Morra Gambit and my one-thirty-something graded opponent told me after the game that all the moves we’d played until c move 13 were standard Morra mainline theory. Of course, I’d been having to work them out over the board from c. move 5 onwards, not very good for my clock situation. This sort of thing did happen in the 70s too- I recall e.g. defending the Alapin anti-Siciian without knowing any theory on it – but typically only against the 160+ crowd. So opening knowledge has definitely shifted down the grading ladder significantly.

        One thing I haven’t noticed much change in, which surprises me slightly, is endgame knowledge. I’d been expecting that players would be noticeably better at endings now, since there is so much more play-to-the-finish than was the case in the 70s. Back then unfinished league games were almost always adjudicated, so it was only in tournaments that you ever tended to play a long endgame. But despite the extra likelihood of playing endings, I don’t have the impression people are any better at them than was the case way back when.

        For me personally, the main disadvantage is that I have to take a decent amount of time in the openings now to avoid wheels-off moments, so that I get into time pressure more than was the case than when I was a teenage theory fiend. Of course, that could also just reflect my brain not working as fast.

        Anyway, so far (a year into playing chess against the computer, and nine months into playing at a club) I’m enjoying it. Which is, after all, the main thing!

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  3. Zachary Cabon

    Feb 19. 2012

    Do we stop playing when chess is more work than fun? When chess becomes another stress, exhausting us mentally, do we leave the game for a while, or for good? When I play chess my mind is not on the problem of the day at work or the drama of the moment by a woman. My mind is on the board, on every “then that” going with each “if this.” And the board does not need to be in front of me, I can see the pieces in my dreams and in my daydreams for years to come, like places I visited – life size and with a measure of love for the friend I played. But the dose is important. Too much, and chess is another problem or drama; and for those who care about winning, ratings and records, too bad: bliss for vanity is a bad exchange and all too common in every sport. Chess: I play just enough to play.

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    • Andy Bak

      Feb 19. 2012

      For you, it seems like chess is a healthy distraction from “problems” of everyday life. I think this is a very healthy attitude to have towards chess.

      I don’t think it’s so unhealthy to care about winning and rating, it’s natural for people who want to improve that they should care about these things. It is simply a matter of why you play and what you are interested in getting out of the game.

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  4. Austin Elliott

    Mar 04. 2012

    Agree with Zach and with Andy’s reply. As one gets older, and has one’s brain more cluttered with all sorts of other ‘stuff’, it is a pleasure to focus on a chess game, which is what it is, a super-interesting puzzle to try and solve and a chance to create something unique. At least, that’s how I feel as a late returner.

    As Andy says, it is probably natural to calculate ratings and so on, as most people are curious about how well they are doing… but when that becomes a reason for playing (or not playing), that is a bad sign, at least for an amateur.!

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